Manchester City has lost only twice in 19 outings in the Premier League at the season's halfway-home mark, but they would be hard-pressed to argue that the season's first half has been a success.
City's Champions League results drew rightful ridicule and rebuke from local press like The Guardian. Entering that tournament boasting their status as reigning Premier League champions, City left it in relative shambles after losing to Borussia Dortmund on December 4.
For the second consecutive season; however, City finds itself with all its proverbial eggs in the basket of winning the Premier League.
Unfortunately, you would never know how urgent City's need to win the Premier League this season is by watching them since they bowed out of the Champions League.
City entered the Dec. 9 Manchester derby with table-topping Manchester United having a chance to draw level on points with a win.
Instead, City conceded twice to Wayne Rooney (as if they had not scouted him) in the first 30 minutes, then wasted a second-half comeback by allowing Robin van Persie to post the match winner on a needlessly-given free kick.
Six points back in the table after that match, City played well enough against Newcastle United winning 3-1. But City was then held largely in check at the Etihad by lowly, relegation-bound Reading, forced to steal a match-winner at the death last week.
Yes, that Reading, a club that had given up 12 goals in its prior four fixtures.
Bad came to worse today at the Stadium of Light, where City have encountered plenty of darkness in recent years. The Sky Blues sustained a third consecutive 1-0 away defeat to the Black Cats, themselves this season a side far closer to relegation than it is to silverware.
That former City man Adam Johnson, who City ostensibly preferred Scott Sinclair to, nicked the winner through a Joe Hart misplay as Sinclair watched from his customary perch on the City bench was richly ironic.
The loss cast City even further adrift of league-leading United, now seven points clear of City following Chicarito's stoppage-time winner against Newcastle at Old Trafford.
Manchester City has chosen a terrible time to fall into a scoring funk, and the blame must fall largely at the feet of its expensive, 25-point-type strikers.
For all of his speed and threat, Sergio Aguero has one goal in the past seven league fixtures. Ditto for Carlos Tevez, whose only marker in the past seven came from the penalty spot against Everton.
Edin Dzeko notoriously rejected his moniker of "super-sub." Dzeko showed City all right, as he has not scored since November 11.
And if you are waiting for Mario Balotelli to inject some scoring potency to this indifferent City lineup, you might be waiting for a very long time. Since starting the derby on December 9, Balo has not even made the team sheet and may be on his way out of town (per the Daily Mail).
Looking ahead, City has a series of fixtures coming up that might provide an opportunity to shore its position up. City's next match against a side presently positioned to qualify for play in Europe next season is set for Feb. 24, 2013, when City hosts resurgent Chelsea.
Then again, if City's strikers continue to threaten but never actually strike, the opposition sort of does not matter.
Roberto Mancini would probably accept another 19 matches where his side only loses twice.
So far, though, that pace has just not been good enough.