Where have all the goals gone?
That's the riddle Manchester City will try to solve Wednesday when they host Sunderland at Etihad Stadium in a bid to get their title hopes back on track.
Until last week, City's offence was the talk of the Premier League and Europe. Manuel Pellegrini's team had scored 68 goals through 23 matches and a whopping 115 in 37, going on rampages of four or more goals on 14 occasions as they hunt a second Premier League crown in three seasons.
After totaling 29 goals in a seven-match winning streak across all competitions, the spigot suddenly went dry as City fell out of the league's top spot. They suffered their first home loss Feb. 3, getting outclassed by current frontrunners Chelsea in a 1-0 defeat before being stymied in a 0-0 draw at Norwich City on Saturday.
The two results dropped Manchester City (17-3-5) into third place, two points behind the Blues and four ahead of Liverpool for the Champions League spots. Pellegrini is still without Samri Nasri for this match, key players Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero for at least two more weeks, and thinks the recent spate of injuries has more to do with the lack of offence than the lack of finishing.
"I don't think we were affected by the Chelsea result. I think the team was more affected by everyone not being 100 percent fit," the Chilean told the team's official website. "All the teams at the top will drop points. The difference is two points, the same as last week, and there are 39 to play for and we will win as many of them as we can.
"We must try to play the way we were two weeks ago."
Sunderland (6-6-13) saw their recent run of success come to a crashing end with a 2-0 home defeat to Hull City on Saturday. The Black Cats played nearly the entire match with 10 men after Wes Brown was given his marching orders in the fourth minute for a foul on Shane Long, with the defender earning a two-match ban for acquiring his second red card of the season.
"It was a disappointing afternoon because we were coming in with everything in place to go and do well and we put ourselves in a very difficult situation," manager Gus Poyet told Sunderland's official website. "We can't or look back too much on this game because it's not a normal game when you play 85 minutes with 10 men.
"We just have to accept it, learn and move on."
Despite being in the midst of the relegation scrap in 17th place, Sunderland have occasionally proven to be a bogey foe for City. The Black Cats have won the last two matches between the teams - both at the Stadium of Light - and stunned Pellegrini's side with a 1-0 victory Nov. 10 on a goal in the 21st minute by Phil Bardsley before withstanding a siege by City that saw them amass 24 shots and 14 corner kicks for the contest.
It's been a different story at the Etihad, though, where Man City have gone 8-1-0 in the last nine while outscoring Sunderland 26-9 in that span.
The two sides will also meet next month at Wembley Stadium for the League Cup final to cap the Black Cats' stunning run that saw them oust Chelsea and Manchester United in the previous two rounds.