Man City Express shows signs of slowing down
Citizens' unconvincing show comes just as they are about to enter a tricky period
Virtually everything has come easy for Manchester City this season.
Bristol City's narrow 2-1 defeat in their League Cup semi-final first leg yesterday morning (Singapore time) proved there are chinks in the armour of Pep Guardiola's runaway charges.
That it has taken a team from the English Championship to show their higher-ranking peers the way should have come as little surprise, given how the Robins had already seen off four EPL sides in this competition prior to their trip to the Etihad Stadium.
But they are not alone.
Wolves had provided the second asterisk on Man City's stupendous run with a goalless draw in October's fourth round, only for the cruel fate of a penalty shoot-out to deny them a scalp.
Both sides remain intent on securing a place alongside the current EPL champions-elect next season but their potential contemporaries finally have a blueprint with which to defeat them.
AGAINST THE ODDS
At a cumulative cost of around £7 million (S$12.6m), Bristol defied the odds in holding Man City until the last.
The arduous task of vying for an unprecedented quadruple has seen Guardiola fail to strike a balance with rotation, even against a team positioned 23 places beneath his own.
There was no rest for Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, who played the full 90 minutes against Bristol.
Ilkay Guendogan, John Stones and Leroy Sane, the other first-team mainstays, were also made to last the distance.
Guardiola also called upon Kyle Walker and Sergio Aguero, pulling off his party trick of a last-minute winner, to provide them with some breathing space as the match neared its end.
Maintaining their current unblemished record is becoming increasingly precarious with each passing game, and will be even more so in the weeks ahead - particularly when that hard work is only now, finally beginning.
Before the return leg at Ashton Gate in about a fortnight's time, Guardiola will meet two teams well-placed to live up to the adage of being stronger in the second half of the season.
A trip to Liverpool on Monday morning could not be any worse-timed for Man City.
Shorn of Philippe Coutinho but significantly bolstered in defence, Juergen Klopp's side will not be the pushovers that they proved in September's uncharacteristic 5-0 hammering at the Etihad.
Newcastle United almost claimed a point in last month's meeting with their visitors and will be equally difficult to overcome when they travel to east Manchester in just nine days' time.
Before the end of February, Man City will also have to welcome a Leicester City enjoying a mid-season resurgence.
Their short journey to a high-flying Burnley on Feb 3 poses a similarly stern challenge.
Something has to, and probably will, give in Guardiola's quest for footballing domination.
The next few weeks may determine just how quickly City's illusion of invincibility will unravel.