With 69 minutes played, four looked all but certain to become three. 2-0 down away to Swansea City in the FA Cup quarter-final, Manchester City’s quadruple challenge was close to being over.
Of course, as we all know, Pep Guardiola’s side fought back, scoring three times in 19 minutes to make the semi-finals and keep their hopes of winning four trophies in just one season alive.
City have pulled off comebacks like this before, in fact, the greatest achievement in the club’s recent history came in such a moment. That’s not what made the turnaround against Swansea most remarkable, though.
Instead, it was the astonishing series of good fortune afforded to Man City that made their fightback particularly noteworthy.
First, there was the dubious penalty kick given to the English champions, with Raheem Sterling barely touched as he went down in the area. Then there was the way that penalty was converted, bouncing off the post and then back off the back of the Swansea goalkeeper’s head before finding the back of the net.
Sergio Aguero’s headed winner two minutes from time was also quite clearly offside but went unnoticed by the officials. On top of all this, there was no VAR available to check Aguero’s goal because, as FA rules stipulate, Swansea City are not a Premier League club.
They were last season when VAR would have been installed at the Liberty Stadium for FA Cup ties, but as Championship outfit, the technology was not on hand.
The good fortune didn’t end there. Victory over Swansea saw City paired with Brighton in the FA Cup semi-finals, with Watford or Wolves lying in wait after that. This comes after a run which has seen Guardiola and his team come up against Rotherham United, Burnley and Newport County. And a run in the Carabao Cup that pitted Man City against Oxford United, Fulham, Leicester City and Burton.
Manchester City already have this season’s Carabao Cup trophy in the bag and are in the final four of the FA Cup having faced, from eight ties, just three Premier League sides – only one of which currently sits in the top half.
In the Champions League, too, they have been handed favourable draws, drawn against Hoffenheim, Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stage, and relegation-threatened Schalke in the last 16.
This isn’t meant to diminish what City have achieved so far this season. In fact, it’s meant to illustrate a sense that destiny is on the side of the Etihad Stadium side, that there’s a feeling of inevitability about their quadruple charge.
Manchester United know how that feels. Their treble of 1999 remains a seminal moment, not just for the Old Trafford club, but for the English game as a whole, and there was a point during that season at which it appeared Lady Luck was the 12th man of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Things just fell into place.
They might not have had the good fortune in competition draws that Man City have enjoyed this season, beating Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal on their way to winning the FA Cup, for instance, but United’s famous treble, once the 1998/99 season reached a certain point, felt like an inevitability.
How many times did Bayern Munich hit the woodwork in the 1999 Champions League final, again?
In 1999, Arsenal were to United what Liverpool are to City this season. Arsene Wenger’s side went toe-to-toe with Fergie’s man all the way to the end, but never truly looked like overthrowing their rivals.
The duel between City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table is taking on a similar dynamic.
While Liverpool seemed to have the weight of destiny pushing them forward in their search for a first league title in 29 years, now it’s Man City who seemingly have fate on their side. Fate isn’t always the product of luck, but a good dose can certainly help deliver it.