It's hard to believe that less than two weeks after winning their first League Cup in 38 years, Manchester City are suddenly forlorn. Out of the FA Cup at the hands of Championship side Wigan and beaten by Barcelona in the champions League, City have had a bad week.
The one positive is that all their focus for the remainder of the season can be on the Premier League, a competition they desperately want to win, but one that has slipped from view in the last month or so. City find themselves nine points off Chelsea, having played three fewer games, meaning the pressure to win their remaining matches has been cranked up.
There's no room for error.
City resume their league campaign in Saturday's early kick-off away to Hull, and a win is vital. After getting his team selection spectacularly wrong against Wigan, the pressure is on Manuel Pellegrini to make sure the starting XI he puts out against Hull is the right one.
The City boss has rotated heavily this season, something he hopes his side will benefit from as the season moves towards its conclusion. But with only one competition left to play for, it's surely time to start playing his best XI more consistently.
Joe Hart will start in goal against Hull. He missed the League Cup final and the defeat to Wigan as Pellegrini continued the policy of playing his second-choice 'keeper in domestic cup competitions, but returned and played well at the Nou Camp. His form has improved steadily since he returned to the side in December.
Pablo Zabaleta, who was sent off against Barcelona for remonstrating with the referee too vociferously after Edin Dzeko was denied a clear penalty, will almost certainly play at right-back. His only challenger is Micah Richards, but his form has been appalling and he is unlikely to play much between now and the end of the season, unless Zabaleta is injured.
Vincent Kompany, who was City's best player in the Nou Camp, will start at centre-back alongside Martin Demichelis, who continues to be favoured by Pellegrini despite a series of high-profile errors. Aleksandar Kolarov is likely to complete the back four, with Gael Clichy struggling for form.
Fernandinho and Yaya Toure will play in midfield. Both have been excellent for City this season and their understanding continues to develop.
In front of those two, City have options. They could go for two up front, or opt to play David Silva centrally, just off the striker, much like they did against Barcelona. That would see Samir Nasri play on the left and probably Jesus Navas on the right, with Edin Dzeko up front on his own. Dzeko's form, although not sparkling, eclipses Alvaro Negredo's at the moment, and he deserves to be ahead of the Spaniard at present.
Sergio Aguero will miss out after tweaking a hamstring in the defeat to Barca.
Predicted City XI:
Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Toure; Navas, Nasri; Silva; Dzeko.
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.
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