Before Saturday’s match at Carrow Road, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini called for his side to produce nine victories from their final ten games.
Given that a battling Norwich held them to a 0-0 draw, it would seem that by their manager’s own calculations, City now cannot afford to drop a single point in order to claim the title. They’re 16/1 fourth favourites to do just that.
Of course the truth is, as Ronald Koeman so confidently stated while summarising on Sky Sports following Leicester’s latest victory, City’s title hopes are all but gone. The strength of Pellegrini’s legacy now rests almost solely on his side’s Champions League success.
Last night, City progressed to the last eight for the first time in their history, and depending on the outcome of Friday’s draw, will feel confident about making it yet further. For all that City have failed to mount a consistent challenge in the league, their strongest starting XI remains capable of beating any side in Europe – bar perhaps Barcelona.
The latest problem Pellegrini now finds himself facing, however, is the loss of centre-half pairing Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi to injury, as both limped off the pitch during the draw with Dynamo Kiev.
Kompany’s recurring calf issues could see him out for at least a month, while Otamendi is struggling to make Sunday’s crucial Manchester derby.
It goes without saying that Kompany’s loss will be greatly felt, and not for the first time this season. The captain has been forced to nurse the same injury on four separate occasions this campaign, and few can doubt that his absences have played a major role in City’s inability to sustain a title charge.
So with their injury-list growing, their title bid waning and the Champions League their new priority, could it all result in a perfect storm that sees Pep Guardiola arrive this summer to manage a club who didn’t even qualify for the Champions League?
Worryingly for City fans, it’s not as far-fetched a scenario as it might first seem. A loss in Sunday’s derby will see Manchester United (4/1 to finish in the top four) climb to within one point of their rivals. Not only that, but by the time Aguero and co. line up against United, they might already be in fifth place should West Ham (7/1) manage a win over Chelsea on Saturday.
City’s run-in following the derby features tough games against Chelsea and Arsenal, a trip to a potentially resurgent Newcastle and a game against a Southampton side who might themselves fancy a late surge for fourth (66/1), lying seven points behind currently.
Meanwhile United’s and West Ham’s respective run-ins look a lot less daunting – they also face each other in the season’s penultimate game. Then there’s Liverpool recent form that suggests a late surge for fourth, with six of their last ten games to be played at Anfield. The Reds are priced the same as United at 4/1 to sneak in past City.
And while the odds of 2/11 still suggest that Pellegrini will leave City having secured a top four spot, a home defeat at the hands of their nearest and least dearest on Sunday could see a momentum shift the likes of which are often so difficult to reverse this late in the season.
With that in mind, Pep Guardiola may want to begin swotting up on the Europa League for the first time in his managerial career.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.