Unless Manchester City can overcome the Champions League fatigue that hindered their efforts against Arsenal on Sunday, they will not retain the Premier League title.
City followed their heart-breaking defeat to Real Madrid last Tuesday with an underwhelming draw with the Gunners, as the pain in Spain still seemed to be hanging over them.
Roberto Mancini’s team face a daunting Champions League group and the opening defeat at the Bernabeu ensures their future in the competition will be undecided until late in the group stages.
They will need a full-strength team for virtually all group games and how they perform in the Premier League straight after those ties will determine their chances of keeping the crown.
If Sunday’s tame display is anything to go by they will certainly struggle.
Arsenal more than deserved their point after creating about twice as many clear cut chances than City.
Were a certain Robin Van Persie still in their ranks, providing a clinical finish as opposed to Gervinho’s wild lashes, they would have won comfortably and Mancini voiced his unease at City’s defending after the match.
They have conceded in every Premier League match so far and the recruitment of Brazilian defender Maicon will hardly be a magic fix – the ageing fullback seems a shadow of the player that won the Champions League at Inter Milan.
Winning the Premier League title last year was a breakthrough for City but the tag of champions can be a heavy one to burden – even the great Arsenal team of 2004 failed to retain their crown.
City will have to deal with added pressure, greater expectation and a fixture list crammed so full of important matches they become the norm rather than the exception.
Whereas five years ago a home match with Arsenal would have been one greatly anticipated by City, now it is a run-of-the-mill occasion.
It will have not entered the consciousness of the players until the agony of losing to Real had faded, and an Arsenal team that have shown much early season promise deserved more respect.
Of course Mancini and his players will not have intentionally shown Arsenal any discourtesies.
It may be football’s most cringe-worthy cliché, reeled out after every game, but those involved in the sport truly believe each match will be tough, whoever the opponent.
Mancini will have been well aware that Arsenal would punish his side for any shortcomings which will make it all the more frustrating they were allowed to do so.
Some of City’s players may be among the best of their kind in the world but they must learn to juggle their commitments in every competition.
David Silva and Sergio Aguero are two of the Premier League’s most technical players, Yaya Toure the division’s most dynamic midfield presence, but all three were peripheral figures against Arsenal.
City’s expensively assembled squad must buck their ideas up quickly as their neighbours, and most likely title challengers, United have things slightly easier in their Champions League group.
While City must battle the Spanish, German and Dutch champions, United’s group opponents emanate from Turkey, Portugal and Romania.
Galatasaray are, on paper, United’s toughest proposition in the group and they have already beaten them once.
In all likelihood, their safe passage to the knockout phase will be secured after four games, allowing Sir Alex Ferguson to rotate his squad in the final matches.
While Aguero, Toure and Silva are battling Real and Borussia Dortmund for a place in the knockout stages, Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will probably be relaxing in Manchester, focusing on United’s Premier League game that weekend.
If City are unable to master the art of dividing their attention between the Premier League and Champions League, United could steal a march in the title race.
And who do Mancini’s side face in the league after their final Champions League group game? United, of course, who will probably have enjoyed a relaxing week off.
It seems everything is conspiring against City.