Manchester City failed to capitalise on Arsenal’s defeat to Liverpool as they played out a goalless draw with Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday. A win at home for Chelsea against Newcastle means they are now on top, two points ahead of third-place City.
City bossed proceedings but couldn’t make the vital breakthrough that would have seen them return to the top of the Premier League table—a position they’ve only occupied for a total of four days this season, despite their often scintillating football.
After a 20-game unbeaten run which catapulted them to the top end of the table, City have now taken just one point from their last two games, failing to score on both occasions.
It’s clear they are missing their big-name absentees. Anyone in any doubt about the quality and influence of Fernandinho are likely to have reassessed their position after the last two games he's missed through injury. City have struggled to dominate the midfield in his absence and, as a result, haven't been able to dictate play in the way they are used to.
His energy and tackling ability sees him kick-start so many City attacks, and without him there’s a distinct lack of presence in the middle of the pitch. In his first half-a-season at the club, the Brazilian has become a key member of this City side, and Manuel Pellegrini will be hoping Fernandinho can return from his thigh injury in time for the club's crucial Champions League last 16 first-leg match with Barcelona in 10 days' time.
Sergio Aguero's pace and confidence in front of goal has also been sorely missed, as has the guile and creativity of Samir Nasri. City will get little sympathy from outside given the cost of their squad, but those three players, all of whom have been excellent this season, are huge losses to the side.
Pellegrini said after the match that neither Negredo or Dzeko is at 100% right now, but at least one has to play as they're our options.— City Watch (@City_Watch) February 8, 2014
One major bright spot for City was the performance of Stevan Jovetic. He lacks total match sharpness, shown by some careless moments in possession, but his quality is becoming increasingly evident the more he plays.
He has a natural footballing intelligence, sees things on the pitch others don't and has the ability to come short, take the ball off the midfield and turn and run at the opposition. City have had a gem in their ranks who's been largely unavailable due to a series of niggling injuries.
City now face a run of four home games before the League Cup final at the beginning of March—a crucial period in their quest for silverware, and returning to the goalscoring form they've shown throughout the season is imperative.
They face Chelsea in the FA Cup and Barcelona in the Champions League during that run, and lacklustre performances like today at Norwich would see their season seriously derailed if repeated.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.