With Manchester City all but out of the title race, boss Roberto Mancini may have to rely on the FA Cup to save his season and maybe even his job.
The Blues will host Barnsley in the FA Cup quarter-final – their third Championship side in four games – after defeating Leeds United in the fifth round on Sunday.
The cup remains the only realistic trophy available to Mancini’s men after they suffered early exits in the Champions League and the Capital One Cup.
The Premier League looks done and dusted with Manchester United running riot and City going into this weekend’s game against Chelsea on the back of a 3-1 loss to strugglers Southampton.
With 2.5 points per game, United are experiencing their best season in Premier League history and the 12-point lead they now have over their fierce rivals is the biggest this season.
This is where Mancini’s managerial skills come into question – had it just been a superior Manchester United side, his shortcomings would be understandable and perhaps excusable.
But, City seem a shadow of last season’s side, with Mancini appearing unable to motivate his players to a second successive league title.
City had 63 points at this stage last season – United are currently two points better off while Mancini’s side have only 53 points, eight behind where the Red Devils were in 2011-12.
Joe Hart has conceded a league-best 24 goals this campaign despite some shaky performances so the fingers point towards a frontline that has scored almost 20 goals less than last season.
Sergio Aguero’s injury-hit campaign means he has yet to hit double figures in the league along with Carlos Tevez, while David Silva has only five assists to his name.
Furthermore, backup players such as Samir Nasri and summer signing Jack Rodwell have had a bigger impact on the wage bill than on the pitch.
Despite more than £150million of attacking quality available to him, Mancini’s insistence on bringing on defensive-minded players such as Maicon, Aleksandar Kolarov and Javi Garcia when searching for a goal has frustrated many.
It must be stressed that a change of manager at this stage in the campaign would be detrimental to the players and the club, particularly as there doesn’t appear to be a ready-made replacement available.
Mancini has the backing of the fans, while the owners know that despite their deep pockets, it would not be financially viable to sack him one year after he signed a long-term contract.
However, a trophy-less campaign would be fatal for him, given the stature of his squad and the manner in which his side have missed out on silverware.
For the second year running, City endured a disastrous Champions League campaign as they finished bottom of their group without a win.
Mancini’s poor European pedigree may count against him – he has only won three out of 11 Champions League games with City and only had a 53% win rate from 36 games at Inter Milan.
Given that one City’s aims were to be competitive in Europe, failure to win the FA Cup despite being in a good position to do so may prove to be the final straw.
While it is important to remember Mancini’s achievements, many suggest that you are only as good as your last season and that could speak volumes for the Italian.
Out of Europe, seemingly out of the title race, the question remains, if City end the season without a trophy, will Mancini be out of a job?
Only time will tell.
Image courtesy of PA, via YouTube, with thanks.