One week ago Manchester City looked to be favourites to claim the 2013-14 Premier League title, but Manuel Pellegrini admits Sunday's 3-2 loss at the hands of Liverpool completely turned the title race on its head.
As reported by The Daily Mail's Chris Wheeler, City manager Pellegrini is convinced the defeat at Anfield affected his players in such a way that it directly influenced Wednesday's shock 2-2 draw against bottom club Sunderland, putting a major dent in the Citizens' title hopes.
After the match, Pellegrini said:
We couldn't take the Liverpool game out of our minds. It was very difficult for the players to do that after three days. At this moment it is more mental than physical. Mentally it was very difficult to play this game after Liverpool. We needed more intensity but our minds maybe were not right to do it.
We had a low performance at the beginning of February but after that we recovered and have had very good results until we lost against Liverpool.
City could ill afford to drop points against last-placed Sunderland, but the hosts needed a late equaliser from Samir Nasri (with a little help from Sunderland's Vito Mannone) to even preserve a single point at the Etihad Stadium.
The Citizens now trail league leaders Liverpool by six points with a game in hand, and with just four matches left, the title might have slipped beyond City's grasp.
#BPL TABLE: 1 Liverpool Pl 34 Pts 77 2 Chelsea 34 - 75 3 Man City 33 - 71 4 Arsenal 34 - 67 5 Everton 34 - 66— Premier League (@premierleague) April 16, 2014
The team's main hope now has to be for both of the other two contenders, Liverpool and Chelsea, to slip up during the final weeks of the season, a sentiment that is echoed by ESPN FC's David Mooney:
Two swings of two boots look to have left the Blues with very little chance of winning the league—indeed, if they do go on to clinch the title from this position, it will surely have to go down as mistakes from their rivals rather than good play of their own. With the chance in their own hands on Sunday morning, City now need favours from elsewhere on both Liverpool and Chelsea. [...]
And that's assuming that City win all of their remaining games—on a display like Wednesday evening's, that would seem as likely as finding a dog that was fluent in Latin.
Chelsea and Liverpool will still play each other in the final week of April, and while the eventual champions will most likely be featuring in that fixture, a favourable result and one or two mistakes by the winners of that tie could open the door for the Citizens to come in and steal the title away.
The Telegraph's Paul Hayward isn't a believer, however:
If you thought Liverpool-Man City was big, what about Liverpool-Chelsea now. City have given it all away in four days.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 16, 2014
The same goes for former player Joey Barton:
Sunderland winning at City. And then there were 2. Title now between Liverpool and Chelsea. LFC in pole position.— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) April 16, 2014
It would seem most pundits agree with Pellegrini's statement that the title is now lost for the Blues, and with just a handful of matches left to play, the loss to Liverpool may indeed have ended City's once promising season.
As shared by Indy Kaila, a trophy-less season is not something that corresponds with the team's financial structure:
Manchester City's wage bill is highest in world sport.— indykaila News (@indykaila) April 16, 2014
Pellegrini shouldn't (and won't) be replaced in a hurry, but with the amount of talent he has at his disposal, losing the title race in this fashion is not something that will be tolerated by the owners or the fans.
If the Chilean can somehow turn the situation around and still deliver his club the title, he would be a folk hero in the blue part of Manchester. But he looks increasingly likely to fail, so the pressure will be on for the team to win some silverware next season.
If the start of the 2014-15 season is in any way a disappointment for the Citizens, Pellegrini will have even more reason to rue that loss at Anfield.