The stars had aligned to give swashbuckling City what Vincent Kompany called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to seal the league on home turf against their bitter rivals.
The dream was on as City captain broke the deadlock and Ilkay Gundogan added another in a first half far more one-sided than the two-goal advantage suggested against shambolic United.
Yet Jose Mourinho’s men rallied remarkably. Paul Pogba, subject of so much scrutiny after Guardiola claimed to have been offered the player, brought things level with a quickfire brace, before Chris Smalling volleyed home to secure a 3-2 win that rocked City and stopped them sealing the title.
“Of course, we wanted to win today,” City boss Guardiola said. “I am not going to deny that, but we know exactly which team we play.
“They are second in a good league, but I am here to try and analyse the feelings.
“I am sorry for the fans, but I don’t think they can have complaints about what we have done.
“When you analyse the game, it was good, so I cannot expect 30 minutes and the opponent doesn’t do absolutely anything.
“My dream is happening in the first half, when we didn’t concede one shot on target.
“But they have pride, a good manager and maybe in half-time he said ‘oh guys, we’ve got to do something more’.
“But we ran, we fought, we did everything, so in one month, two month or one or two years and we’ll see the game and say ‘wow, how could we lose that game?’
“But we lost it so for the fans it’s hard, but maybe we’re going to get more credit if we are able to win the Premier League ‘OK, how tough it was’.
“People since November, December say ‘the Premier League is done’, ‘the Premier League is done’, ‘the Premier League done’, and it was a tough fight to keep going every single weekend, to be focused because it’s not done.
“And, of course, now it is not done, so the people say, ‘you’re going to win’. Wait. In football everything can happen.
“It’s the first time we’ve lost two games in a row this season and now we have to recover, try again, come back to basics and win games. We’re going to try next Tuesday and next games.”