Man City dropped points for only the fourth time this season when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Burnley at Turf Moor. Pep Guardiola is facing an injury crisis and could not even name a full substitutes bench as his side slumped to the disappointing draw.
Meanwhile, an Alexis Sanchez-inspired Man Utd beat Huddersfield to close the gap on the league leaders to 13 points, with 13 games left to play. Could we have a title race on our hands?
The bookmakers still expect Man City to win the Premiership at a canter: check out a rating of the best sports betting sites and review them your self before placing a wager and you will see that Guardiola’s men are just 1/100 to lift the trophy, while Man Utd are out at 66/1.
But chinks in the City armour are starting to appear. They went for Riyad Mahrez in the January transfer window but ultimately baulked at Leicester’s astronomical price tag. It highlighted an awareness that Guardiola’s attacking options are thin on the ground at present.
Leroy Sane is on the treatment table, alongside Gabriel Jesus, and when the manager needed to make a change to freshen things up on Saturday he has nobody to turn to. Three of his subs were untested kids, and one spot on the bench was vacant. Man City are competing on four fronts, and a squad that is already stretched thin may soon falter.
Guardiola said there was no point bulking out his bench with youth team reinforcements. “We didn’t have any players,” he said. “They are injured. I would have liked to have had 18 players and have called on someone from the second team but they played yesterday. Others were injured. We will see at Leicester just how many are coming back.”
City play Leicester on Saturday and they are, as ever, heavy favourites to win it. But they are likely to still be missing a large contingent of stars – David Silva, John Stones, Fabian Delph and Benjamin Mendy are all injured at present – and the Foxes have a chance in that game.
They are in a bad position with the Riyad Mahrez saga, but still have enough pace and invention from Jamie Vardy, Demerai Gray and Marc Albrighton to hurt a Man City that no longer keeps many clean sheets.
A hallmark of their blistering start to the season was not only free-flowing, sumptuous attacking football, but also an exemplary defensive record. They have only kept clean sheets in two of their last nine games in all competitions, which puts the impetus on the forwards to score more. But with Raheem Sterling misfiring and Sergio Aguero looking fatigued, they could only manage one against Burnley, and that came from full-back Danilo.
City should still win the Premiership title with ease, because Man Utd are inconsistent and so are Liverpool, while Chelsea are in free fall. But there might be less talk of a quadruple bandied about at this rate. Of course, injured stars like Gabriel and Sane will return at some point, but they are also liable to suffer further injuries.
Nowadays Man City typically enjoy 70% possession in a game, and they are met with aggression by opposing defenders who try to contain them. That leaves them at risk of further injuries, and that could hamper their chances in the other competitions.
It might make punters think about backing underdogs Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final if their upturn in form continues. And Man Utd might not be able to overhaul City in the title race, but they are a great cup team and now look a really interesting bet to win the FA Cup at the longer odds.
A month or two ago, City looked invincible, but now they have lost their unbeaten record and teams go into games full of hope. If Burnley can get a result against them, why can’t teams like Man Utd and Arsenal? It all points to a more exciting end to the season than some neutrals could have hoped for a month ago.