Manchester City’s Anfield defeat demonstrates just how hard an invincible season is in the Premier League

Manchester City’s Anfield defeat demonstrates just how hard an invincible season is in the Premier League

As Mohamed Salah powerfully spun past João Cancelo and slotted the ball in the back of the net in front of an adoring Anfield crowd, Manchester City knew they were in trouble. Despite their best efforts, the reigning Premier League champions succumbed to the pressure of the home crowd, losing for the first time this season and ending their hopes of finishing invincible.

At times, Anfield is an emotional pressure cooker, and even though Pep Guardiola has felt the effects of this in the past, you felt this time was different. With further points dropped in the league, hopes of a third successive title hang perilously in the balance, with fate in Arsenal’s hands at the time of writing. The Premier League winner odds at certainly make for interesting reading. Phil Foden’s disallowed goal could have turned the tide but the Spanish coach cut a frustrated figure as his former City assistant Mikel Arteta leads the Gunners into a title race.

“This is Anfield,” Guardiola said. “The referee spoke with my assistant coaches and said: ‘I’m not going to make fouls and I will be clear.’ All game it was play on and play on and play on.

“We didn’t lose the game for that because nobody knows what would have happened but we had momentum and control and scored a goal. We could not have it and then after we lost by a mistake.

“They shouted, we shout more. Otherwise, here in this stadium, you go. The game was calm and then after the goal was disallowed and after they scored a goal, it was the real Anfield.”

You’d have to go back almost 20 years for the last time Arsenal won the league, but they did it in style. The last team to have finished a Premier League campaign as Invincibles, Arsène Wenger’s side won the league in the 2003-04 season, amassing 90 points and winning 26 games. While the modern era of City and Liverpool arguably had more quality, the fact that no team has managed to match Arsenal’s record for almost two decades is testament to the longevity of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and co. back at Highbury.

Both Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp have come close. Had it not been for each other’s brilliance we perhaps would have seen that record broken by now. City finished the 2017-18 season with 100 points after a late Gabriel Jesus winner away to Southampton, but their trip to Anfield at the turn of the year saw them lose 4-3 to Liverpool. Their other loss came in the Manchester Derby to delay their inevitable title win but the Centurions will look back on that campaign with regret.

Liverpool were high-flyers in the two following campaigns, building their squad to allow it to compete with Guardiola’s financial powerhouse. They went within touching distance of the title in 2018-19 but a defeat at the Etihad proved to be the only time that season they failed to pick up any points, and Leroy Sané’s winner ended up delivering consecutive titles for the blue half of Manchester.

12 months later Liverpool were top at Christmas having won 24 of their first 25 games, but a capitulation away to Watford saw Klopp’s side beaten 3-0 and hopes of an unbeaten season were put to rest. They won the title later that year due to the coronavirus pandemic but given their good start, it was the closest any side had looked to becoming an invincible side since Arsenal.

An honourable mention also goes to the Chelsea side of 2004-05, who won the title with just one defeat to City in José Mourinho’s maiden year in England. However, it looks as if it will be some time before we see anyone replicate Arsenal’s success. With the game having evolved so much since then, it will be interesting to see if the duopoly between City and Liverpool finally results in an unbeaten Premier League campaign.