Long considered favourites in an absorbing Premier League title race, Manchester City no longer have control over their destiny and must also sweat on the fitness of Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany for the closing weeks of their campaign.
A 3-2 defeat to Liverpool at an emotional Anfield, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, saw City fall seven points behind their hosts on Sunday and needing the Merseysiders to slip up to overhaul them.
City’s run to the Capital One (League) Cup title and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup means for the past few months they have trailed in the points tally but two games in hand over their title rivals has kept them regarded as favourites.
However, Sunday’s defeat means that edge has dissipated and they must hope Liverpool fail to collect maximum points in one of their remaining matches against Norwich City, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Newcastle United, even if the 2012-13 champions win their remaining six fixtures.
The loss at Anfield came after City fought back from two goals down to draw level at 2-2 before a botched attempted clearance by Kompany allowed Philippe Coutinho to nip in and fire home the winning goal with 12 minutes remaining.
City’s inspirational captain had suffered an injury after a collision with Micah Richards in training on Saturday but the decision to play the central defender regardless, backfired as the Belgian struggled to match Liverpool’s vibrant forward line.
Another blow to Manchester City came after just 20 minutes when talismanic midfielder Toure hobbled off with a groin injury, leading to fears the Ivorian could miss Wednesday’s match against Sunderland and potentially the rest of the season.
“It’s difficult for Yaya to be in the next game,” manager Manuel Pellegrini told Sky Sports on Sunday.
“We will see tomorrow, I don’t know how serious he is injured. I think it will be difficult for him to finish playing this season.”
Having lost the initiative in the title race, Kompany’s defensive partner Martin Demichelis said they remained hopeful the Reds would slip-up before the season ended, despite the Merseysiders having won 10 league matches in a row.
“We’re obviously not happy about the result but we know we have matches ahead and you have seen in football that we can still win – they can still make mistakes,” the Argentine told the Manchester Evening News.
“Hopefully, we will win the rest and expect some mistakes from Liverpool. No-one left the stadium feeling they were champions, and we have plenty of matches.”
Liverpool have 77 points, two ahead of second-placed Chelsea with City a further five points adrift.