Manuel Pellegrini could leave Manchester City this summer as the club’s most successful manager. A Premier League title and one other trophy would see him overtake Joe Mercer and become the most decorated boss the Blues have ever had. Given the strength of his squad, it’s far from an unrealistic target. Greatness is within reach.
Fundamental flaws threaten his chances, though. His side are far too easy to play against. His current centre-back pairing of Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis are incapable of consistency. Vincent Kompany, who would tighten things up at the back instantly, has a problem with his calves and cannot be relied upon. The Yaya Toure conundrum rumbles on. The less said about Aleksandar Kolarov the better.
His side now sit third and could drop to fourth if Arsenal beat Bournemouth on Sunday. They’re six points off leaders Leicester and have lost six league games already this term. In a 38-game Premier League season, that's the most any side has lost and still gone on to win the title.
They haven't won back-to-back league games in well over three months, since victories over Newcastle United and Bournemouth in October. They haven't beaten a side in the top six of the division all season.
Remarkably, despite all of that, they do have a chance of reclaiming the title. The Premier League has been so unpredictable, defined by its reducing inequality, that a lower points total than usual will be needed to finish top.
But whether City can capitalise on the shifting Premier League landscape is in serious doubt. They weren't just beaten by Leicester City on Saturday—they were hammered, battered into submission by a side who appeared far better prepared for a title race. Claudio Ranieri's players were quicker to the ball, tactically smarter and more intelligent in possession. The scoreline flattered City, make no mistake.
Continue playing like that and City will have to face the prospect of ending a second consecutive season empty-handed, a situation unthinkable in 2014 when they won a league-and-cup double for the first time in the club's history.
Their defending was laughable. Otamendi continues to veer from moments of excellence to long periods of insanity. When his aggressive, on-the-front-foot defending works, it's wonderful, but far too often his lunacy is hurting his side.
He is continually out of position, running aimlessly into midfield, desperate to be the hero. While he's there, he can't help but slide in, selling himself too easily and leaving gaps in behind.
Demichelis, 35, is creaking, particularly when playing the amount of games he is at the moment. It wasn't part of the plan for him to be playing twice a week. He nearly went back home in the summer to begin semi-retirement, according to Stuart Brennan of the Manchester Evening News. He looked semi-retired as Robert Huth scored two from Leicester set pieces while he watched on, incapable of stopping him.
Together, Otamendi and Demichelis looked lost—no better than they did at White Hart Lane back in September when they were ripped apart by Tottenham Hotspur, who are now serious title candidates.
City lack pragmatism, those players who operate in the less glamorous positions but who take pride in their work and understand the intricacies of the game. They're an ensemble that, at the moment, are bereft of cohesion and some vital elements.
Afterwards, Pellegrini, who sounded despondent, tried to muster some positivity.
“Football things change from one week to another," he said.
“We are not in our best moment, we just have 14 players fit and we have played a lot of games.
“We continue to be involved in all the competitions and it is very important to recover from this."
The spectre of Pep Guardiola looms large, and the comparisons have now increased. Guardiola is known as a meticulous planner, so would that result have happened to one of his sides? Would City be walking the league if he was in charge? There were even some idiots wearing Guardiola scarves in the stands on Saturday.
It's unhelpful. City, despite their obvious failings, do remain in the hunt for silverware, but there needs to be a serious inquest into what went wrong in this match. Improvements on the training field and the return of Kompany are desperately needed if they are to achieve anything close to what they expected when the season began.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.