Joint leaders of the Premier League on New Year’s Day, the wheels started to come off Manchester City’s season during their 2-0 defeat by Arsenal in the middle of January — and they have never been the same since.
City had been challenging Chelsea at the top of the table and at the start of 2015, the two clubs had been separated only by alphabetical order.
Although there had been some earlier indications that Manuel Pellegrini’s well-oiled machine was not running quite as smoothly as it could, City looked set to maintain their push for a second successive title.
A few doubts were raised during the Christmas and New Year programme when they allowed Burnley to come back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at the Etihad Stadium. They also squandered a 2-0 lead against Sunderland before eventually winning 3-2 thanks to a late Frank Lampard header.
City fell behind Chelsea in the title race when they allowed Everton to come from behind to force a 1-1 draw at Goodison.
Five weeks after being level with Chelsea, they were trailing Jose Mourinho’s side by seven points.
After Sunday’s crushing 4-2 derby defeat at Manchester United, even a top four finish and a place in next season’s Champions League is no longer a certainty.
Headlines like “Humiliated” “Dismal City” “Toure top of the City flops” and “City humbled in derby defeat” have made painful reading for the blue half of Manchester.
City, effectively the richest team in the world through the backing of Sheikh Mansour’s mega-rich Abu Dhabi United Group, have ended up looking more like the poor relations who have misspent their new found wealth.
Symptomatic of that is the 32.0 million pounds ($46.92 million) paid to Porto for French defender Eliaquim Mangala who has struggled at the back all season.
Many others including Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko, Gael Clichy, Aleksandar Kolarov, Stevan Jovetic and captain Vincent Kompany have been poor since the slump started in January and coach Manuel Pellegrini’s rigid 4-4-2 approach has cost them, especially when Barcelona eliminated them from the Champions League.
United skipper Wayne Rooney gave an indication of how his team approached Sunday’s game when he said: “We know some City players are not the best at tracking back and defending or tracking runners and we felt we could make them pay for that and we did.
“We have got players who can score goals from midfield and, to be honest, we felt that was going to win us the game and that’s how it proved to be.”
More than a month ago former City manager Peter Reid said much the same thing: “There’s no desire when they lose the ball to get it back, to zip it around the park.
“We can all have off days in any walk of life but that desire, fighting for the shirt, not wanting to get beat, I’m looking at City and I don’t see that.”
The one thing in City’s favour with six matches to play is that they do not have the hardest of run-ins with home games to come against West Ham United, Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers and Southampton, and two away games at Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City.
With a four-point cushion over Liverpool, they are still narrow favourites to finish in the top four, but who leads them forward and plays for them next season is anyone’s guess.