Manchester City have dropped so many points in recent weeks that they are looking over their shoulders rather than challenging Premier League leaders Chelsea for the title.
That’s the admission of City’s Samir Nasri, who feels that the seven point gap is too big to close – although there is still the last third of the season to go.
If City drop more points on Wednesday at Stoke – where they have never won in the Premiership – and Chelsea beat Everton at home, their hopes of retaining the title will look insurmountable.
City have not won in their past five games, their worst run in six years. It is not a coincidence that City’s influential midfielder Yaya Toure has been away on international duty at the African Cup of Nations during that time for Ivory Coast.
City paid Swansea City $35 million for striker Wilfried Bony in the January transfer window, but he too was playing for Ivory Coast and, like Toure, will not be available for the Stoke game.
Ivory Coast won the competition on Sunday, beating Ghana in a nail-biting penalty shootout, but Toure’s welcome return may be too late to catch Chelsea.
Toure and Bony are expected to stop the rot which has seen Manchester United, Southampton, Tottenham and Arsenal increase the pressure for a coveted top four Champions League place.
Nasri said time is running out for Manuel Pellegrini’s out-of-sorts side to regroup because they cannot rely on Chelsea dropping vital points as Liverpool did in the title run-in last season.
Southampton have been the surprise team of the season so far, considering they sold more of their best players last season and welcomed in a new boss in Ronald Koeman at the same time.
But Koeman has been incredibly shrewd and, despite a depleted squad and limited finances, he has juggled everything superbly.
Koeman wants to bolster the side this summer by acquiring Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac.
The 29-year-old France international is out of contract this summer and is refusing to sign a new deal.
Gignac has scored 14 times this season and wants a move to the Premier League. He is also attracting interest from West Ham and Everton.
Koeman wants a replacement for last season’s top scorer Jay Rodriguez, who is expected to move on once he recovers from a serious knee injury.
Fortunately for Koeman, he doesn’t have goalkeeping problems, unlike City; Joe Hart may be an England international, but his form is not as consistent as it could be.
Hart’s performances are not as bad as a couple of years ago when Pellegrini dropped him for a spell, but he is not in sparkling form either.
At least neighbors United don’t have that problem with their highly sought keeper David de Gea who has been sensational this season under new boss Louis van Gaal.
The Spaniard’s contract expires next year and he is wanted by European kings Real Madrid.
But De Gea’s agent Jorge Mendes denies the move to Real is already sealed and negotiations are ongoing with United for an improved contract.
De Gea had an uncertain start when he arrived at Old Trafford from Atletico Madrid for $24 million four years ago, but Sir Alex Ferguson nurtured the youngster’s talent and now at 24 he is one of the world’s best stoppers.
Mendes is still insisting that De Gea is happy at Old Trafford despite the recent arrival of former Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes on a free transfer.
Valdes is seen merely as backup and for rotation purposes if United’s fixtures get too congested or De Gea gets injured. But it also keeps De Gea sharp and ensures complacency doesn’t creep into his game.
Real may be a hard offer to resist for De Gea, though, because they are looking for a long-term replacement for Iker Casillas, whose form in the past 18 months has been erratic.
The fact that Casillas was at fault for the first goal when Real lost 4-0 to Atletico on Saturday confirmed that, at 33, his best days are probably over.
If Real cannot get De Gea, then they will focus on another exceptional keeper, Chelsea Thibaut Courtois.
The 22-year-old Belgian emerged as one of the world’s best keepers during three years on loan at Atletico before finally becoming Chelsea’s first choice this campaign, ousting the highly regarded Petr Cech.
Courtois has settled quickly at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues will not sell him cheaply.
Meanwhile, a deflated Arsene Wenger warned Tottenham not to get too carried away with their 2-1 victory on Saturday.
Spurs leapfrogged their bitter rivals as they try to finish above the Gunners for the first time in 20 years.
Harry Kane scored both Tottenham goals and his emergence in recent months has been astonishing.
Kane’s arrival as a leading Premiership sharp shooter is sensational. The 21-year-old Englishman had not looked exceptional before this season, but his fine scoring form since November has alerted Europe’s biggest clubs that he may be worth splashing out for, as Real did in paying Tottenham a king’s ransom for Gareth Bale two years ago.