Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City travelled to Turf Moor this past weekend, with renewed optimism surrounding their chances of reclaiming the title.
After Chelsea’s surprise exit in the Champions League, they were expected to pile on the pressure, and a win against Burnley could have reduced the gap at the top to just two points before the Blues faced Southampton the following day.
But a hugely disappointing performance culminated in a shock 1-0 defeat to the relegation candidates, with a wonder striker from Burnley midfielder George Boyd enough to secure the three points. Not only did the defeat all but end their chances of catching Chelsea at the top of the table, it has now raised question marks over their chances of a top four finish; something that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
Three nil wins for Arsenal and Manchester United has put both sides within touching distance of second-placed City, and with Liverpool beating Swansea on Monday night, Manuel Pellegrini’s side now have just a four-point buffer in the race for Champions League qualification. Given the way they performed at Burnley, this gap is certainly not unassailable for the teams below them.
City may well have had an eye on Wednesday’s return leg with Barcelona in the Champions League last 16, where they need to overturn a 2-1 deficit at the Nou Camp in order to reach the quarter-finals.
While this should not have resulted in the type of sluggish performance put in at Burnley, it could certainly explain the manager’s decision to take off two of his main goal threats in Yaya Toure and David Silva when chasing an equaliser, despite the pair putting in uncharacteristically poor displays.
While defeat in Barcelona will provide obvious disappointment, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Manchester side, who can then fully focus on securing qualification for next season’s competition as quickly as possible.
Four wins from their last 10 league games is hardly a confidence booster, and things will need to improve quickly in order to avoid the unthinkable given the impressive form and winning runs the likes of Arsenal, United and Liverpool have put together over recent weeks.
City travel to both Old Trafford and White Hart Lane in their remaining nine fixtures, matches that could have a huge bearing on the outcome of the top four race. And although the Blues will be confident they can put together a run of wins over the coming weeks, fixtures against the likes of West Brom, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace could also prove potential banana skins, with all three sides rejuvenated following recent changes in manager.
Still very much in the box seat to finish in second place, it’s certainly too early to panic for fans of Manchester City, especially given the quality at their disposal. But Pellegrini has to address their poor run of form and ensure performances improve quickly in order to avoid a nervy finale to the season.
While missing out on the top four would be a disaster for the club, it’s definitely not out of the question just yet.