Manchester City will look to win the League Cup—a trophy they haven't won for 38 years—when they face Sunderland at Wembley on Sunday.
It’s a competition steeped in romance and nostalgia for City. They appeared in three finals in the 70s, winning the competition twice, but haven't been returned since their 2-1 win over Newcastle in 1976.
City then welcome Wigan to the Etihad the following weekend for an FA Cup quarter-final, before travelling to Barcelona for the return leg of their Champions League last 16 tie. It’s three cup competitions in consecutive matches—the first time in the club’s history that has happened.
The danger for City, despite the excitement of their multiple cup involvement, is that it could adversely affect their league form, with Chelsea now in a position to move nine points clear before Manuel Pellegrini’s men next kick a ball in a league fixture.
After City’s recent league game with Sunderland was called off due to extreme weather conditions, Chelsea have already played one game more and find themselves three points clear. They now take on Fulham away and Tottenham at home over the next two weeks while City engage in cup matches, and maximising their opportunity to establish a significant lead will be uppermost in Jose Mourinho’s mind.
And it isn't just Chelsea who pose a threat to City's title chances. Liverpool remain in excellent form, particularly at home where their attacking talent regularly rips opposition defences apart. Arsenal are also well-placed, with their likely Champions League exit meaning they can focus solely on domestic matters.
One look at the remaining fixtures for those four clubs tells an interesting tale:
However, a run of winnable games at home, where they've performed exceptionally well throughout the season, means they have an opportunity to rack up points. Their away form looks set to decide their title chances.
Their most difficult period begins at the end of March, with successive matches against United (away), Arsenal (away), Southampton (home) and Liverpool (away). Coming through those games will be key.
On paper, Chelsea have what looks to be the easiest run-in, and if they can win their next two matches to go nine points clear and pile the pressure on City to win their games in hand, they would be in a strong position. Their toughest remaining fixtures are the games against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge and their trip to Anfield.
Liverpool have the toughest set of home fixtures, but they've built up some real momentum on their own pitch, and therefore, they'll be feeling confident. There's also a feeling inside Anfield that this season represents their best opportunity to end their 24-year wait for league title, and if Brendan Rodgers can harness that and use it as a strength, it could work in their favour.
Their defence, however, remains their Achilles' heel and could scupper their chances.
Arsenal have marginally the toughest run-in, which includes a four-game run against Tottenham, Chelsea, City and Everton—a potentially season-defining period for them. Coping with injuries, particularly in key midfield areas, and their lack of striking options may see them fall short.
City still have it all to play for in the league, and if they win the games in hand they are about to accrue, they would return to the top of the table. That's easier said than done, though. Although their cup runs have made for an exciting season, the fixture pile-up that has come with it could prove to be damaging.
It will certainly be a test of the mental strength in this current City squad if Chelsea do win their next two games.
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: @RobPollard_.