For the first time in nearly six months, Manchester City go into a match off the back of a domestic defeat and four games without a win – an unpalatable scenario for perfectionist Roberto Mancini.
Equally unfamiliar is the prospect of kicking off against higher placed Premier League opposition with Fulham one notch above City in sixth position.
Mercifully, the domestic reversal in question was limited to the ‘Capital Punishment’ – sorry – Capital One Cup and not the Premier League. Not many City fans will lament an early exit from the most junior of the four competitions entered this season, but the manner of the defeat is definitely a cause for concern.
The abject performance that accompanied the ‘shock’ 4-2 loss to a bright, but hardly outstanding Aston Villa, aroused bitter memories of yesteryear and an era where Keystone Cop defending was the norm.
It wasn’t as if Mancini could point to a plethora of young bloods gaining vital, albeit bitter, first team experience in the cup exit. Only the full debut of playmaker Denis Suarez and a start for Abdul Razak met that criteria.
One would expect a team boasting England regulars Lescott, Barry and Milner, plus the likes of Kolarov, Tevez and Balotelli would have had more than enough to overcome a mediocre XI from the Midlands.
But no. Despite taking the lead twice and subjecting the bulk of the 28,000 crowd to a painful extra 30 minutes of play, they succumbed in a pitiful display of ineptitude in the pouring rain.
The worry is that the Villa match was a reflection – admittedly an extreme example – of sloppy play by the Champions this season.
Where is the sharp incisive inter-play that saw a rampant City dismantling opponents at will, giving rise to the humorous terrace ditty of ‘We’ll score when we want, we’ll score when we want, we’re Man City, we’ll score when we want’?
To even the most untrained eye City’s problems are entrenched in a defence with all the solidity of a blancmange in an express train dining car.
City seem to have as much chance of a clean sheet as a Chinese laundry before the washing machines go on…what has happened to the meanest ‘D’ in the Premier League?
All the components are still there – Hart, Clichy, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov – supplemented by the promising Nastasic and the ultra experienced Maicon. Richards is missing, Kolo goes missing in action and Savic won’t be missed at all so, if anything, the unit should be stronger.
Mancini must surely decide on his best back four and stick with it for half-a-dozen games to breed consistency and stop haemorrhaging goals. Even if City opt for three at the back it needs to be the same trio to cultivate a genuine understanding.
The irony is there will inevitably be wholesale changes at Craven Cottage with the return of the likes of Hart, Clichy, Zabba, Kompany, Garcia, Silva, Nasri and Aguero to name but eight!
City could and should have too much for a reshaped Fulham with Berbatov and Rodallega offering an attacking threat. Last year the Sky Blues threw away a two-goal Aguero advantage to hang on 2-2. They must be far more resolute this time out.
The aim has to be three points and a first elusive ‘nil’ posting for the other team. It’s early days but City don’t want to be falling any further behind the league leaders.