Mind the gap, Manchester City. Just don't forget how quickly it can disappear.
English champions Manchester City suffered a blow to their hopes of retaining the Premier League title Sunday when a 2-2 draw with Liverpool left Roberto Mancini's men nine points behind leaders Manchester United.
City edged out their bitter rivals for the title last season after making up an eight-point gap over the season's final month. More time and more matches remain this season, but even Mancini and his players realize the size of the task they face.
‘The title isn't over, no. Absolutely no way," Mancini said after the Liverpool match (via Daily Mail). "…But we probably need to win most, if not all, of the games. But this is football. It is not finished. I think like last year, we can get back in it. I don't see why this can't happen again this year."
Goalkeeper Joe Hart echoed those sentiments, saying City have little choice but to try.
"We've got to be confident," he said (via ESPN FC). "There's no point turning up otherwise. We have got to win every game now and look not to drop any points, and it is a good challenge for us."
Like last season, goal differential could be key. But this time United hold the slight edge at plus-29 to City's plus-26.
One crucial difference in the table is the number of draws each team has earned. United have lost one more match than City, who have drawn six more matches (eight to United's two). United—crucially—have won five more times than City, easily making up for the difference in draws, and then some.
Keeping that in mind, City know that avoiding defeat in the run-in won't be enough. To make up ground, City must also avoid more draws and hope United draw more often (last season, both clubs had identical 28-5-5 records, with City winning the title on goal differential).
City's run-in resumes Saturday at Southampton. The Saints have climbed out of the relegation zone, but City should fancy themselves to win.
That should be the case as well against Aston Villa (March 2, away), Wigan (March 9, home), Newcastle (March 30, home), West Brom (April 13, home), West Ham (April 27, home), Reading (May 12, away) and Norwich on the final day of the season (May 19, home).
Assuming, just for the sake of an entertaining title run-in, that City win all those matches, the title could then come down to their results in the three marquee matchups left on the fixture list.
City host Chelsea on Feb. 24 in a match that will be vital for both clubs. After a run of indifferent results, Chelsea lead fourth-placed Spurs by only one point. Tottenham, meanwhile, host City on April 20, when the race for Champions League berths most likely will be reaching its climax.
Most important of all, clearly, will be the trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on April 6. United's fixture list before the derby is relatively manageable (home to Everton, Norwich and Reading, and away to QPR, West Ham and Sunderland), so this meeting could either represent a chance for United to seal the title or for City to claw back into the race.
First, though, City must produce the right results before the Manchester Derby, starting with Southampton on Saturday. With a title repeat already looking unlikely, Mancini, Hart and the rest would agree that another negative result would probably prove fatal.