In a way, this was a defeat like no other for Manchester City. For the first time in his 686-game managerial career, Pep Guardiola witnessed one of his sides concede five goals. It was also the first time that City had conceded five at home since they left Maine Road. Leicester City, meanwhile, became the first team in the Premier League era to win and convert three penalties in a single game.
It may be that later in the season, once the new £62m signing Ruben Dias has settled in alongside Aymeric Laporte in the centre of defence and either Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus are starting up front, we will look back on this extraordinary 5-2 humbling and wonder at how City’s defence featured a want-away 19-year-old with 16 stitches in his head and their attack was spearheaded by a 17-year-old making his second senior appearance.
And yet for all this game’s peculiar idiosyncrasies, it was hard not to draw comparisons with the Champions League quarter-final against Olympique Lyonnais, the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, or several of the nine defeats which City suffered during last season’s limp defence of the Premier League title. Despite this being a display riddled with individual and collective errors, pretending that this was merely a freak result would be the biggest mistake of all.
Patterns emerged. Again City struggled against opponents who were content to sit deep, defend and rely on the counter-attack. It was once the case that while Guardiola’s side were in possession, one of his full-backs would move infield to form a back three with the centre-halves and together they would sit behind two deep players in midfield, creating a solid base to defend against fast breaks.
Yet the amount of times Leicester found themselves running at just Nathan Ake and Eric Garcia on Sunday was frightening. There were moments reminiscent of the defensive disorganisation in transition that was on display in Lisbon, when Maxwel Cornet, Karl Toko Ekambi and Moussa Dembele picked their high line apart, or the first Etihad league defeat of last season against Wolverhampton Wanderers when Adama Traoré did the same.
And again, the press which proved unusually porous last season regularly collapsed. Though it was a collective failure rather than the responsibility of any individual, Fernandinho used to be the key figure in coordinating when and where City would attempt to win the ball back. He still could be - and was excellent at Molineux last Monday - but there is a question over whether, at 35-years-old and after spending a season playing at centre-half, he will be as reliable as he used to be.
The move which led to Leicester’s first penalty stemmed from him rushing to close down Nampalys Mendy inside the opposition half then being turned and left for dead. Carles Planchart, one of City’s analysts sitting on the back row of the Etihad press box, immediately realised the danger and barked at Riyad Mahrez to cover for his captain. It was perhaps telling that, as Guardiola sought to change things early in the second half, Fernandinho was the one sacrificed for young Liam Delap.
But in his post-match interviews, Guardiola did not recognise either of those similarities between this defeat and the others City that have suffered over the past year. Instead, he had a simpler, less technical explanation: his players had panicked. “I think today the problem was that we put extra pressure on ourselves to score the second or third one when [Leicester] just didn’t want to play, they just wanted to defend and play on the counter attack,” he said.
Guardiola thought that, once City failed to extend their early lead, his players started to believe that they were playing badly. “In that position, we have to be more calm,” he added, and revealed that he had attempted to reassure them at half time that they were playing well, that the result would come. Whatever he said, it did not have the desired effect. “We were anxious to attack... we got nervous and after we gave three penalties away. And when you do that you cannot [win].”
Perhaps that’s all there is to it. But if so, it invites another question. Jurgen Klopp used to say parking the bus and hoping to get a result against City was like buying a lottery ticket. Many teams tried during the 2017-18 ‘Centurions’ season, when Guardiola-era City were reaching their zenith. Of them all, only Wigan Athletic really succeeded. Every other team determined to sit back and soak up pressure eventually found that City would have too much possession, take too many shots and score too many goals.
That was three years ago. Today, if Guardiola is saying that his players are suddenly beginning to doubt their own abilities when it comes to breaking down low blocks, or that they become desperate to score a second and third goal against counter-attacking teams because they expect to concede, then what has changed? How did being on the other side of that lottery ticket - as close a thing as football has to a sure bet - become fraught with fear and danger?
It is an answer that Guardiola, his team of analysts and those of us watching from the sidelines will only come to understand by searching for clues, patterns and common threads between this defeat and the other 12 that City have suffered in all competitions since the start of last season. After all, this was not a defeat like no other or some sort of freak result for City but part of a long and concerning trend.