Manchester City machine in danger of stalling after bruising Barcelona defeat

Manuel Pellegrini's side started last week claiming to be focusing on securing an historic quadruple but their season is on the brink of collapse after back-to-back cup exits
BARCELONA, Spain -- If a week is a long time in politics then how aged must the blue voters in Manchester feel after a short sharp spell of torture which has left their all-out assault on four competitions reduced to faint hopes of a merely satisfactory double?

The swagger has gone, the juggernaut is in danger of stalling – even City’s 6-foot-3 powerhouse Yaya Toure is canvassing for sympathy following the most damaging week of Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge.

MATCH REPORT: Pellegrini's men dumped out of Europe as Messi & Alves strike
FLOP OF THE MATCH: Lescott struggles to cope in Camp Nou defeat
The 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in Wednesday night's Champions League second leg represented confirmation of what we largely already knew – City is not quite ready to go toe-to-toe with the European heavyweights.

Indeed, Vincent Kompany went to great lengths to emphasize in his pre-match briefing that his side had nothing to lose and was in Catalonia on a wing and a prayer - the real damage was inflicted by Wigan in Sunday’s FA Cup quarterfinal.

Had City kept to the script and swatted Uwe Rosler's men aside and had Sergio Aguero used the match to recapture his fitness and form, then their efforts at Camp Nou might have carried more impetus and perhaps not looked so forlorn.

Instead City arrived almost admitting defeat. Instead of warning a stuttering Barcelona side the team came intent on revenge, Kompany bleated: “We will try to make the best of it.”

And, make no mistake, Kompany's impressive individual display almost did help mask a sorry situation with manager Manuel Pellegrini banned from the touchline because of a petulant outburst after the first leg, but the Chilean was still the man in power to make the call to start Aguero.

In the first 45 minutes, before the Argentina striker's limp performance was cut short, he managed a total of six touches. It was sad to see one of the sharpest finishers around reduced to chasing lost causes before his night was brought to an abrupt end following the latest in a long line of injury setbacks.

He was not alone in looking below-par. David Silva and Samir Nasri undoubtedly have the finesse to slot into Barca's side but they either lack the work ethic of Andres Iniesta and Xavi or choose not to employ it.

Mid-March is not a good time for question marks to emerge, whether they be about a star striker's fitness, a manager's temperament or a midfield's commitment. And it is a little late in the campaign to discover you are lacking a central defender worthy of lining up alongside your captain as Joleon Lescott failed to impress while deputizing for the much-maligned Martin Demichelis.

In the summer, Manchester United looked vulnerable the moment Sir Alex Ferguson stood down and potential signings shunned them. Chelsea claims to be focusing on remodeling its squad ahead of adding to its trophy cabinet. And Arsenal has revealed its soft underbelly often enough to make it look fragile.

City, however, has strengthened, apparently. Gone is Roberto Mancini's cautious approach, banished are the distractions of Mario Balotelli and in their place are Pellegrini's brand of attacking football and the ruthless power and precision of Alvaro Negredo.

And it was all going so well. Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Negredo have amassed 66 goals between them this season, but have now not scored for a combined total of 907 minutes.

The team that once swashbuckled through the fixture list, threatening to break records, is suddenly feeling the strain as Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta lambasted the officials for the reverse in Spain.

More worryingly, Toure suddenly spoke of fatigue, of teams singling out City and of the big blue machine feeling a little hard done by ahead of what is now a match against a “serious” Hull side.

“It is good now because we can focus on the Premier League and the most important thing is that we get more days to rest because we have been involved in so many competitions, with the national teams as well, it is always difficult,” Toure said after the defeat.

“I hope everyone is going to be fit for Saturday because Hull is a serious team, everything is not going to be easy for us now and I hope we finish well now in the Premier League.

“We have won something and we want to win more but this is sport and people are coming and want to beat us. It is tough because week-in, week-out we play against tough teams, they are motivated to play against us and you have to understand that we are not machines.”

Of course City is not one giant billion-pound machine – it is a billion pound company with lofty expectations and a vast staff deemed capable of winning against the toughest teams in all competitions.

They may have fielded a strong side in the Capital One Cup because of the plethora of talent they have on their books but history shows rivals like Arsenal and Manchester United have treated the competition like a reserve tournament.

And if Pellegrini ends up holding just that one trophy in May he'll find little sympathy anywhere, especially from within the corridors of power at the Etihad.