FROM challenging for the Premiership league title to engaging in a mad battle just to finish fourth – that is the embarrassing position that Manchester City now find themselves in.
Unsurprisingly, their predicament has prompted talk of a massive clear out of players in the off-season, with some suggesting that neither will Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini be spared in the aftermath of a disgraceful run that saw them lose three of their last six Premier League matches, including two on the road to Burnley (19th on the log) and Crystal Palace (11th).
And if the faithful of the Etihad thought for a single moment that things could not get any worse, then they might well be in for yet another rude shock.
The broken team that once was a sleek Man City machine travel to Old Trafford tomorrow for the showdown against a buoyant Manchester United side, knowing full well that their noses could get rubbed into the dirt even more.
Indeed, a victory for the Red Devils is on the cards and this despite the widely held notion that the form book counts for nothing when it comes to the derby.
Deep down, those at Old Trafford know they got lucky with a handful of results that went their way earlier in the season, but now they are playing with a lot more self belief and a couple of players have made real progress in finding genuinely good form, not least of them midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick.
Such has been the turn around that manager Louis van Gaal these days speaks with a distinct cockiness and has even built up enough gall to have a go at other teams.
Of course, we all know that this is not good, only because these things sometimes come back to bite you.
Man United’s morale over the last 18 months or so, peaked three weeks ago when they beat fierce and top-four rivals Liverpool. Should they go on and see off the struggling Citizens tomorrow, that hype would spike even further and one could rest assured that talk of winning the title would follow.
As absurd as this would be, some of their fans would actually believe it.
The obvious way to tell is that they are now placing wagers on their team for the first time since the beginning of last season (not last year – last season).
There is almost nothing one could use to mitigate City’s poor form since they drew level with Chelsea in the league in February. That air of potency has disappeared and been replaced with that of feebleness and incompetence.
But that is not to say City cannot, somehow, record a fifth successive league win over Man United.
Of course they can, but they will need to get things sorted out in a hurry, both in attack and defence.
The Citizens’ squad is laden with players of immense talent and great technique, but in recent weeks – and the results are there to prove it – they have failed to gel on the pitch and instead been left to look rather ordinary.
Their source of goals has dried up big-time and at the back, opposition strikers have exploited huge, gaping holes. Needless to say, this is a team that gets rattled at the first sign of the opposition advancing.
Sergio Aguero, City’s front-line striker, has been unlucky and would have otherwise been five or six goals richer if not for, among other things, poor refereeing and the woodwork that have denied him on several occasions.
Vincent Kompany remains a liability. He is a far cry from the sturdy and reliable defender he was a season ago and has also lost a yard or two of pace, while his timing of tackles has betrayed him numerous times.
Having said all that though, Man United should be wary of one thing, and one alone. If they come unstuck tomorrow and then stumble when they travel to Chelsea next Saturday or when they entertain Arsenal on May 17, they too could find themselves in a heap of trouble.
Another team in a spot of bother is Liverpool and their demise in their last two fixtures is a good example of what could happen if Man United lose the plot.
In high spirits before the Man United game, Reds manager Brendan Rodgers was boldly talking about finishing second in the title race – that has now turned to conceding the fight for a top-four finish – never mind runners-up.
A tricky home fixture against Newcastle on Monday is where Liverpool will be hoping to bounce back and get the bid for a top-four finish back on track.
In the league, the Magpies have lost their last four in a row and Anfield will be hoping that the trend continues. Without reading too much into the form-book, Liverpool should win this one – but a draw should maybe not be ruled out.
Queens Park Rangers will be in line to pick up 10 points from four matches tomorrow. However, coming up against the champions-elect, Chelsea will be a hard number to beat. Thus, it is safe to say that if the visitors leave Stamford Bridge with a point, they will have done themselves proud.
Arsenal are a good bet to consolidate second place in the standings. A point clear of Man United and two ahead of Man City, the Gunners make the trip Burnley, from where they are expected to emerge with all three points.
However, even if they fail to do so, it will be nowhere near as catastrophic as to how Man City have tumbled down the order. Theirs has been nothing short of sheer embarrassment.