When referee Anthony Taylor called time at the Etihad on Sunday, it was impossible to miss the funeral atmosphere shrouding the home contingent.
While the league table displayed a point gained, the sum of Manchester City’s losses was, quite clearly, much greater.
Roberto Mancini’s men are nine points off Manchester United, with 13 games remaining – a deficit which, while certainly surmountable, will again require a mammoth effort to overturn.
Compared to last year’s fightback, when United were eight points clear with just six games left, the gap without doubt looks retrievable.
But, for all the Blues’ undoubted talent, their performance against Liverpool lacked the one vital ingredient they now require above all others: fight.
Outfought as well as outthought, City’s uninspired showing was not reflective of a team with six consecutive clean sheets, winning four in five since their last concession.
Instead, it was more like a team who had watched Wayne Rooney fire United ten points clear the evening before, and spent all night rehearsing the league table.
Struggling to create much of substance, the Vincent Kompany-lite Blues looked uncharacteristically weak at defending the counter, where Liverpool consistently excelled.
Indeed, only a combination of goalkeeping stupidity and individual brilliance brought them level, City’s second draw in a week following Tuesday’s stalemate at QPR.
They must take heart from exactly that, however: a sub-par performance culminating in a point, a week of blip interrupting a sequence of good results.
Yaya Toure’s imminent return from African Cup of Nations duty will aid them in their surely inevitable fightback.
They will also be aided by the memories of 2012, memories which they will need to channel into 13 full-blooded performances.
Unfortunately for City, the masters of fight and churning out results are the team ahead of them – and make no mistake, United will be fired up like never before.
Last year’s crumble will have deeply hurt Sir Alex, and it is hard to envisage that he would allow such an extraordinary scenario to happen again.
United did enough against Fulham on Saturday to win – just – and the brief psychologically-damaging ten-point lead will have had its effect on their neighbours.
Indeed, perhaps it is not so much a race anymore; instead, just a test of Manchester United’s nerve, the nerve they will hope time has healed.
With the fixture list looking slightly kinder to the Reds going into the final third, City will need to fight and grind to their limit.
They will also have to hope that the Reds do slip into a sense of complacency, or hit a similar run of form as at last year’s season’s end.
Mancini knows that the fight for supremacy isn’t over – of course it’s not, it’s only just turned February – but his side must rediscover the spirit of 2012 to pull things back.
Image courtesy of Yahoo UK video, with thanks.