The Premier League champions went out of a side that could not watch out four minutes of injury time against Crystal Palace three days back to a defensive unit which confined Sheffield United to only one effort on goal — a weak backheel to the arms of Ederson.

Kevin De Bruyne’s magnificent pass setup Sergio Aguero’s winner, but City won the title last season with no brilliant Belgian for half of their games.

Without Laporte since the end of August, this year’s challenge has collapsed. They’ve surrendered 27 goals already — four more than the entirety of their 2018-19 campaign, and nearly double the total of runaway leaders, Liverpool.

“We’ve missed [Laporte] a lot; it is incredible,” Guardiola admitted. “He’s the greatest left-central defender in the world.

The City boss cautioned before his return that Laporte would not immediately transform City’s defensive record but he had been wrong.

There was an early indication of rustiness once the Frenchman made a misstep inside six minutes. Wrong-footed with a through-ball, he had team-mate Fernandinho to clean up the danger.

Nevertheless, an early crunching attack on George Baldock quickly snuffed out a sign of danger and a header from a corner beneath his crossbar under stress cleared a critical threat.

There was a late opportunity that Ollie McBurnie was inches away from converting, as Laporte understandably tired shortly before he had been withdrawn for the last 10 minutes.

By then, however, he had also proven it is not just his defending that is vital to Guardiola’s system, his calmness and passing from the rear steady the players around him.

Home fans howled the Blades attackers to place City’s defence under pressure and a single media has been broken up by Laporte using an easy, trendy ball rolled across the six-yard box that resulted in a lightning-quick counter-attack.

It is why lovers and team-mates were fearful to see the Frenchman writhing around the floor following a primitive Muhamed Besic tackles. Luckily, Laporte was soon up and running again, much to the aid of his manager.

“He’s something that we do not have in the group — his left foot and several activities that make [our drama ] faster and better,” Guardiola added.

“We do not have it, not because the other defenders aren’t good, but he’s the sole left foot as a central defender and for how we want to play, that’s so important.

“His personality and mindset and winning — he has all of the attributes.”

So often this year, City’s assault has bailed out an error from the defence.

That is why Laporte is so crucial and why his return may be a significant element in City’s pursuit of silverware in the last months of the year.