LIVERPOOL, England — After 22 games, spanning five months, Manchester City’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season is over. Pep Guardiola’s team will, surely, still claim the championship. It remains on course for a record points total. But its hopes of matching Arsenal’s achievement in 2004, of going down in history as invincible, evaporated in a 4-3 defeat in the white heat of Anfield on Sunday.
Only just, though, only just. As the game entered its final stages, Liverpool was cruising, City seemingly blitzed in the space of 10 breathless, electric second-half minutes. Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah had all scored, giving Jurgen Klopp’s team an apparently unassailable 4-1 lead.
A City team that had looked so composed, so confident all year suddenly looked wracked by doubt in the face of Liverpool’s surge. Defeat seemed certain, and for a fleeting moment, it was possible to wonder if perhaps the Premier League was not quite as settled as has long been assumed. City was not just losing. It was crumbling.
And then, with six minutes to play, Ilkay Gundogan burst into Liverpool’s box, the ball broke to Bernardo Silva and he slotted it home. Anfield’s mood, jubilant until then, changed. Liverpool looked nervous. City started to flicker again. As the game ticked into injury time, Gundogan tapped home a third. It was, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain said, a “bit of a nail-biting time.”
Liverpool clung on. Anfield exploded, as much in relief as joy, when the final whistle blew. Given the week Liverpool has had — seeing Philippe Coutinho, its most gifted player, leave for Barcelona — victory against the best team in the country was particularly special, proof that there is no reason to assume the future is bleak.
But there was something for City to grasp at in the result, too. Guardiola, and everyone else at the club, had always made plain that going unbeaten this season was not even close to a priority. It was not something anyone had set out to do; Guardiola has rarely done anything but scotch the idea that it might be possible. That the team has now lost will not cause any particular soul-searching. There will be no desolation.
Had City lost in the spectacular fashion that seemed possible after Liverpool’s explosive 10 minutes, though, the effect might have been different. In recent weeks, City’s performances have started to dwindle. Crystal Palace came within a missed late penalty of beating Guardiola’s team. Bristol City, of the second-tier Championship, gave the Premier League leader a scare in the League Cup.