It didn’t seem possible a few weeks ago. Man City were still favourites for the Premier League crown, despite still trailing Leicester City at the top of the league.
But fast-forward to now and City currently sit in fourth place, six points behind leaders Leicester, having just succumbed to a 3-1 home defeat to the Foxes. With players battling fatigue, loss of form or lacking fight could the unthinkable happen at the Etihad, could they drop out of the top-four altogether by the end of the season?
Should they lose to Spurs on Sunday and suffer a second consecutive home defeat, the alarm bells could start to ring. Pochettino’s side are only marginally less successful than Ranieri’s Leicester when it comes to away-day performances, so they certainly have the skill to triumph over City.
On the plus side, City haven’t lost to Spurs on their own patch for over five seasons and have enjoyed some comprehensive victories over the London side in that time. But this Spurs side are a different animal, already smashing Pellegrini’s side 4-1 at ‘The Lane’ early on in the season and are perhaps an even better than the one that qualified for the Champions League in the late noughties – incidentally the last time they had consistently good results over the Manchester side.
Defeat to Spurs wouldn’t single-handedly lead to City falling out of the top-four of course, but it could start a worrying trend in the wrong direction. Not playing till Sunday, City could kick-off their game only three points ahead of neighbours Man Utd, should LVG’s side triumph away at Sunderland 24 hours before, something that seems entirely possible. Other sides, too, are not far behind.
This would definitely put some pressure on the side still hurting from their comprehensive defeat to Leicester last time out. The loss of Kevin De Bruyne, in the League Cup semi-final win over Everton in January, has hurt them significantly, a quality, consistent supply line to the front-men now gone. Yaya Toure’s complete loss of form, desire and energy is clear to anyone who has watched City recently, whilst big-money summer signing Raheem Sterling has failed to have the kind of impact many hoped.
And with Silva not looking quite at his best, the side are only yet another Aguero injury away from looking very thin indeed. Kelechi Iheanacho has been a bright spot, but he can not replace the goal threat that would be missing should the Argentine go down.
And it’s not just the players that bring cause for concern either, but the manager too. Having already announced the arrival of Pep Guardiola to the Etihad next season, Pellegrini’s desire could well have dissipated. His decision to announce the change of manager himself, during a press-conference ahead of the clash with Sunderland earlier this month hints at a man with pride and self-assurance, consistent with his time as manager of City, but he may well have had enough.
Far from releasing him from the burden of an incoming-manager hanging over his head, it could have had the opposite effect – certainly if the Leicester game was anything to go by. The Chilean looked tired and drawn on the touchline during the game, the side unable to cope with the Foxes’ energy and drive on the pitch, his expression rubbing off on the players.
Failing to change tactics or personnel until it was too late, no-one could accuse the outgoing boss of not caring in the past – he is after all the most successful manager in their history – but perhaps now, after everything has be said and done, he simply hasn’t got the drive. You certainly hear of players losing the desire to play for a manager once they know he leaving in the near future, but why not the other way?
After the Tottenham game, his side face a double date with Liverpool in both league and cup, as well as games against neighbours Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to play before the season is out. Couple that with an FA Cup clash against Chelsea on the horizon, as well as having to negotiate a two-legged tie against Kiev in the Champions League and possibly beyond, and City have a mounting fixture-list to deal with in the coming weeks.
If Pellegrini can’t rouse the troops for the Spurs game and beyond, Guardiola could find himself joining a club in the Europa League – now wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books? Not that he’d do it on purpose of course.