Gabriel Jesus was standing on the touchline, yet to enter the fray. Sergio Aguero got back in his seat on the bench behind the Brazil forward and Leroy Sane started to hobble from view – perhaps for the last time in a Manchester City shirt.
And yet, despite being momentarily down to 10 men and without those three lavishly gifted attacking allies, Raheem Sterling scored to put his team 1-0 up against Liverpool in the Community Shield – David Silva providing the assist with a cute flick.
It was a moment to show the staggering depth of attacking capabilities at Pep Guardiola's disposal and why – if certain reports are to be believed – Sane has had his head turned by Bayern Munich's interest.
Sane's presence in the City starting line-up was notable given the conjecture over his future, while the abrupt end to his Wembley outing does none of the parties concerned any favours.
The 23-year-old seemed keen to let his football do the talking as he darted on to Sterling's early pass to rattle a shot into the side netting, before running in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold and having a cross blocked.
England right-back Alexander-Arnold had a torrid time of things during the opening exchanges but there was no malice in the foul that left Sane stricken. Indeed it was one of those to file under "innocuous", making the Germany winger's plea for immediate attention all the more concerning.
City then enjoyed their best period of the contest, with Sterling and Bernardo Silva restored to the wide berths they were trusted with ahead of Sane during a flawless title run-in last season.
Even before considering the pull of Bayern for any German player, it makes the appeal obvious. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery riding off into the sunset mean the Bundesliga kings need a main man. That would be Sane who, for all his gifts, will never enjoy similar status under Guardiola.
As City weigh up whether or not to budge on their asking price, they will do so in the context of title rivalry set to rest on the finest of margins.
Is keeping a potentially unhappy and uncooperative Sane more of a danger than having a squad without his thrilling, game-breaking ability. Pick the wrong side of that equation and Liverpool are likely to capitalise.
Lacking the stifling high-stakes of their Premier League encounters last season, the first half at Wembley was notably looser and – certainly from a Liverpool perspective – more error-strewn.
But, as was the case in the title race, City could not convincingly shake them. Virgil van Dijk clattered the underside of the crossbar, Liverpool suddenly fizzing with a verve to belie their earlier torpor.
Mohamed Salah then hit the post having passed up three earlier chances, while showing Oleksandr Zinchenko left-back duties can be a wretched endeavour on a full-time basis. A weakness spotted, noted and logged.
Any equaliser always felt likely to come at the expense of Zinchenko and Nicolas Otamendi, who were collectively porous on the left of City's back four in the absence of Aymeric Laporte. Joel Matip being the man to exploit the opportunity was a surprise.
Claudio Bravo - also arguably culpable on the goal - saved from Naby Keita and Salah as City ended the 90 minutes smothered in a red rash, barely able to find the respite of the opposition half.
Having the outlet of an explosive, destructive left winger might have helped at that stage. A player with four goals in five Premier League appearances against Liverpool, including a priceless winner last term. Suddenly life without Sane didn't look so good.
As Kyle Walker's remarkable airborne clearance in stoppage time showed – an act eerily reminiscent of John Stones' heart-stopping heroics when the sides met in Manchester in January – there will remain little between these two formidable teams.
Title retained by one point; Community Shield retained by one penalty as Bravo denied Georginio Wijnaldum and City netted a perfect five. Any tweak to this delicate balance will shake English football's new centre of gravity.
City appear to have the ball in their court in the Sane saga. They have to be certain they make the right call.