Latest setback leaves Manchester City in a different fight

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After Manchester City’s latest stumble, a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace in South London, the English title holders suddenly find themselves scrapping for a Champions League spot instead of another Premier League crown.

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There are reasons for City to be aggrieved with Monday’s result – Glenn Murray’s first goal might have been offside, and he later escaped a clear handball that should’ve been whistled for a penalty kick – but really, the Citizens should be aggrieved with themselves. They’ve now dropped 18 of an available 36 points in the second half of the league season, to say nothing of a firm dismissal from Europe at the hands of Barcelona.

City’s struggles can be traced to a number of factors. The normally staunch Vincent Kompany has gone through a well-publicized drop in form, while Sergio Agüero has scored just three times in the league since returning from knee ligament damage on Jan. 10.

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Midfield engine Yaya Touré missed a month and a half on international duty with the Ivory Coast during the Africa Cup of Nations, and in that stretch, City lost at home to Arsenal in addition to drawing with Chelsea, Everton and Hull City. Back-to-back league wins over Stoke and Newcastle by a combined 9-1 score seemed to right the ship, but since then, City has alternated wins and losses.

The big-spending Sky Blues now sit a point behind Manchester United in the table, the first time they’ve trailed their local rivals all season, and a massive Manchester Derby looms this weekend at Old Trafford. It goes without saying the quest to repeat as Premier League champions is essentially over as well.

If the ship continues to sink, then manager Manuel Pellegrini will almost assuredly be on the chopping block despite winning both the Premier League and the League Cup in his first season in charge. But the City hierarchy would be wise to stay patient in this regard, because a new top manager doesn’t seem readily available.

If Real Madrid decides to sack Carlo Ancelotti, then he becomes an attractive option for City, with a hugely successful track record across Europe and previous managerial experience in England. Pep Guardiola may be available when his contract at Bayern Munich is up in 2016, but that’s no guarantee, either. Meanwhile, managers like Jürgen Klopp and Diego Simeone have worked wonders with more limited resources, but they’re locked up at their clubs for the foreseeable future.

So that leaves City with little choice in the present other than to find its championship form again. Liverpool and Tottenham, who sit fifth and sixth in the table, are still seven points back and have been listless lately in their own right. Still, this is not the battle Manchester City figured to be fighting at this point in the season.

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