Manchester City’s lack of ruthlessness has cost them on a number of occasions this season, and at Carrow Road on Saturday it was a shortcoming that finally killed their chances of Premier League success. A 0-0 draw with Norwich City, a side who had taken one point from a possible 27 going into the match, has surely ended any faint, lingering title hopes Manuel Pellegrini’s side had.
City dominated possession and for long periods were by far the more dominant side—but their final ball continually let them down, and John Ruddy in the Norwich goal had little to do, aside from one excellent first-half save from Sergio Aguero.
Pellegrini refused to give up on the title, saying afterwards “you must always think, if mathematically you have a chance to do it, you can do it,” but the truth is their Premier League focus is now firmly on securing a top-three place in order to ensure automatic Champions League qualification.
It was desperately disappointing. They went into the game 10 points behind leaders Leicester with a game in a hand. A win over Norwich, 18th in the table, would have secured back-to-back league wins for the first time since October and applied some pressure on the sides above them, none of whom have the same recent experience of challenging for the title. But despite their obvious superiority, they couldn’t create the space or the chances to see off a spirited but limited side heading for the Championship.
In truth, City don’t deserve to win the title this season. They’ve been horribly inconsistent and too often lacking the desire needed to string positive results together.
With Pep Guardiola set to take over from Pellegrini on July 1, those who have become disillusioned by the Chilean’s methods will soon have something to cheer, but that won’t ease the pain they’re feeling after this game at Carrow Road. How can a side with the quality City possess have taken just 51 points from 29 games, particularly in a season lacking quality at the top end of the table? It’s an appalling total and one Pellegrini will struggle to explain away.
City’s attentions now turn to the Champions League, with this week’s last 16 second leg against Dynamo Kiev seen as crucial. City are 3-1 up from the first leg in Kiev and have one foot in the quarter-finals, unprecedented territory for the club.
It’s a competition they have tended to struggle in since first qualifying in 2011, and moving into uncharted territory would be a significant boost to their future prospects. They have often appeared inhibited on the European stage, gripped by an inability to impose themselves.
A place in the quarter-finals would be hugely positive, and they have a chance to go even further. There will be at least two sides in the last eight City will fancy their chances of beating. However, their soft centre means it’s difficult to see them competing with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and winning the competition.
That's the best Pellegrini can hope for. A top-three finish in the league and progress in the Champions League. It could, and should, have been so much more. A man who has led with dignity looks set for an undignified, disappointing exit, with his side's failure impossible to mask.
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_.