Richard Buxton: Solskjaer's Devils prove to be Pep's nemesis again
City's 28-match unbeaten run ends, but a third loss at home to Devils just a blip
Why always them?
Just when Manchester City appear to be steamrolling towards another English Premier League title with minimal resistance, they are invariably hit with a bruising reality check.
Its name is Manchester United.
A 2-0 loss to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side yesterday morning (Singapore time) denied City's place in the record books as their 21-game winning run came to an abrupt end.
Not for the first time, the Red Devils threw a roadblock in the way of a season-long procession at the Etihad Stadium. They have made a habit of it during recent years.
Pep Guardiola's Centurions missed out on the chance to become the earliest-ever EPL champions by slipping to a 3-2 defeat by their local rivals in April 2018.
They still claimed the crown, albeit only after United themselves slipped up at home against a struggling West Bromwich Albion, a week on from snatching the derby spoils.
Then, as now, the 20-time English champions finished a distant second behind their "noisy neighbours".
Last season, too, they struck another blow with a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford that nudged the title further in Liverpool's direction and their long-awaited coronation.
In a remarkable role reversal, United have assumed the role as the new/old City. Their main purpose is to expose occasionally chinks in their nearest and dearest's armour.
Solskjaer boasts a hat-trick of wins behind enemy lines in east Manchester. He is the first manager to best Guardiola on his own patch as many times in succession.
Not that it counts for much, if anything, with the champions-elect sitting 11 points clear.
Briefly, United appeared the only challengers capable of stopping City from strolling to their third title in four campaigns.
Liverpool's alarming defence of the trophy they had so desperately craved gifted their northwest adversaries a chance to seize that mantle.
Temporarily topping the table at the end of January fired a statement of intent which they ultimately failed to follow up, dropping 13 points from a potential 24 thereafter.
City, conversely, headed into this 185th derby showdown riding the crest of a wave.
Injury setbacks did little to hamper them but, even with a clean bill of health, United proved an Achilles' heel and brought the curtain down on a 28-match unbeaten streak.
For Guardiola, that shot across the bows can only serve as fresh motivation.
Winning at a relative canter had made his side's domestic ascendency appear somewhat effortless.
Yet, despite their imperious recent form, they are still to master the art of infallibility.
Guardiola will already be casting his meticulous eye for detail on how the Citizens can avoid being caught cold again, not just in their broken swagger to the title, but also when preparing to break new frontiers by winning this year's Champions League.
He has often responded best to encountering adversity, typified by the reinvention of a squad who fractionally staved off Liverpool before being emphatically overhauled by them.
One uncharacteristic result does not simply wipe out that impressive undertaking.
United were kings for a day but that is all they essentially are; glorified pretenders whose lack of genuine staying power leaves them barely clinging to City's coat-tails.
Once more, Guardiola's team are proving themselves to be the real deal. If they could replicate it on all fronts, not just in the EPL, their true greatness will finally be an undeniable fact.