It’s looked over for a while now but Manchester City’s 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on Sunday saw them fall a whopping 22 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool.
Manager Pep Guardiola again chopped and changed his side as his side battle on four fronts but has it had a detrimental effect? Never picking the same starting XI from week to week, the Spaniard watched as City lost their sixth league game, just under a quarter of the 25 matches they’ve played. It’s a far cry from the 100 points they amassed last time out.
Injury problems and defensive woes have also contributed to a testing campaign. We spoke to Onefootball journalist and City supporter Dan Burke for the fan view on just what’s gone wrong at The Etihad...
City stormed the league title for two seasons with record point totals. What has changed this season for you to have lost six games already?
The biggest change has been the loss of key personnel in defence. First Vincent Kompany left in the summer and people forget that not only did City lose a leader in the dressing room with his departure, but also a really excellent centre back.
Then Aymeric Laporte got seriously injured and it quickly became apparent just how important he is to the way the team plays. The knock-on effect is that Fernandinho has had to drop back into defence and though he's generally done well, his presence in midfield has been badly missed and City don't dominate that area of the pitch like they used to.
They've had to play with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi alongside Fernandinho and they are both really unreliable, while Benjamin Mendy's constant injury issues mean City never have a settled left-back. They've actually scored more goals than they had at this stage last season, but also already conceded more goals than they had in the whole of last season.
Guardiola has made 76 line up changes. Do you see why? Is there any method to the madness? Or is it an error on his part?
I think every manager at a top club has to rotate their team with the amount of games they have to negotiate but I've felt for a while that Guardiola chops and changes too much.
He hasn't picked the same starting line-up for two consecutive Premier League matches once this season, whereas it feels like Liverpool play with the same XI every week. Sometimes his hand is forced by injuries or suspension but a lot of the time I think he can be guilty of over-thinking things.
For the last few weeks, a group of friends and I have been playing a game on WhatsApp where we try to guess his starting XI and none of us have got it right yet. I seriously have a feeling none of us ever will.
What do you make of the reports City players have told him to stop tinkering with the squad?
If those reports about the players telling him to stop tinkering are true then I think it's something he needs to hear but it's probably too late now. The title is long gone and top four is pretty much guaranteed so the league is probably where he should be doing most of his rotation between now and the end of the season. But hopefully, he'll take it on board for next season.
What is the feeling around the club when star names like Aguero are left out on occasion?
I don't think anyone minds too much about the likes of Aguero being rotated, especially when you've got a good player like Gabriel Jesus waiting in the wings. One of the big complaints from the fans this season is that David Silva has played too often even when he's not been in good form, especially because it means Phil Foden isn't getting too many first-team opportunities.
Another one is Riyad Mahrez, who hasn't really had a settled run in the team despite the fact he's been one of the better players when he's played.
The summer, do you believe City failed in their recruitment at the back?
I thought they needed a Kompany replacement in the summer but they might have gotten away without one had it not been for that Laporte injury. That's what killed them really and I don't think they will make the same mistake two summers running. They need another left-back as well.
As you say, injuries haven’t helped...
Not at all. The injury to Leroy Sane was a blow because it deprives City of a potentially game-changing option in attack and leaves them without a genuine left-footed winger. That said, there's every chance he would have been sold to Bayern Munich if he hadn't got injured in the Community Shield, so it's hard to say how impactful that has been
Some will still say City have had a good season. Have Liverpool been too good or have City been way below par?
I think City have had a mediocre season by their standards but even if they'd had a "good" season it probably wouldn't have been enough to pip Liverpool to the title again. I've seen a lot of people saying they're currently eight points worse off than they were at this stage last season, which isn't great but if they finish the season with eight fewer points than they had in 18/19, they'll have 89. That's not bad at all and would have been enough to win the league in lots of previous Premier League seasons.
I think Liverpool have been unstoppable but I do wonder whether they would have only dropped two points if they'd had a genuine challenger breathing down their necks all season
Any other reasons you think have contributed to City’s downfall this season?
I think it was always going to be tough to properly challenge for the title again this year, even though I expected City to win it before the season began. The squad appears to be at the end of the cycle and is going to need some major surgery in the summer, while I also wonder if the players are feeling a bit mentally fatigued after three years of working with Guardiola.
Hopefully, they'll freshen things up a bit over the summer and come back much stronger next season.