Source: ChicagoWhite via Twitter
Manchester City’s quest to join Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of the 2003/04 Premier League campaign was ended by Liverpool at Anfield. Pep Guardiola’s men had gone 22 matches without defeat in the top flight before losing 4-3 to Merseysiders on the road – ending the notion of an unbeaten term. However, their run could have been brought to a halt sooner back in September during their first meeting against the Reds. The two teams were playing out an even contest at the Etihad Stadium, with City edging in front thanks to a strike from Sergio Aguero. Mohamed Salah spurned two good opportunities before the game turned with the sending off of Sadio Mane. The Senegalese caught Ederson with his boot in the face, resulting in his dismissal. City were rampant against 10 men, scoring four goals in the second half to secure a dominant 5-0 victory. Had Mane controlled the ball and rounded Ederson rather than catching the keeper, would the result have been different?
City have been outstanding in their second season under Guardiola and William Hill have the Citizens at 1/50 to win the Premier League title such has been their dominance. However, in the early stages of the campaign, they were far from fluent. Brighton held them in check for the opening 70 minutes of their clash at the Amex Stadium before Aguero broke through their defences. Raheem Sterling was needed to salvage a late point against Everton in their home opener, while the England winger scored a winner seven minutes into stoppage time to secure a win over Bournemouth. Although City led against Liverpool through Aguero’s strike, Salah had missed a number of opportunities before Mane was dismissed. The dismissal allowed City to go from strength-to-strength even in their following matches, putting six goals past Watford and five past Crystal Palace before defeating Chelsea on the road. With momentum in full flow, the City juggernaut was on its way to taking a stranglehold on the English top flight, displaying a ruthlessness rarely seen in the Premier League.
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However, had Ederson been a fraction slower and Mane had rounded the keeper to slot the ball into the net, would the match and therefore the title race turned out slightly differently. On the basis of the Liverpool game alone – the Reds under Klopp have played City extremely well over the past two years. The Merseysiders claimed a 1-0 win over Guardiola’s side on New Years’ Eve in 2016. Arguably they should have taken all three points from their clash at the Etihad later in the term as Adam Lallana missed a glorious opportunity late in the contest in their 1-1 draw. Had Liverpool have held City in their match earlier this season or even won the match, would the Blues have been so dominant since? The tackle from Mane could be one of those ‘what if moments’ for the chasing pack, although City have also benefitted from a number of late goals to hold a commanding lead heading into the final five months of the campaign.