With City traveling home from Abu Dhabi the day before today's FA Cup match against Middlesbrough, nobody was expecting the team to play a perfect game. Unfortunately, that was about the only expectation City lived up to in a 0-2 home defeat to the Championship side.
After a strong opening half hour that saw the creation of several chances, City looked disorganized at the back and toothless up front in a loss that will cast further doubt on the team's ability to hang with Chelsea in the title race and give Barcelona a run in the Champions League.
So what should we take away from today's FA Cup loss? Here is what stood out the most.
1. This isn't just about Yaya Toure's absence
If you ask any discerning City enthusiast what the biggest challenges face City in their attempt to win every trophy under the sun, the African Cup of Nations stealing Yaya Toure away will invariably be a talking point. And while losing one of the world's best central midfielders certainly doesn't help a team, to pin a loss like this on his absence would be to ignore some of the glaring flaws contained within the rest of the squad.
While Toure is certainly a crucial piece to the long term success of this team, the lack of a reliable defense, inconsistencies from strikers not named Sergio Aguero, and the occasional malaise that tends to follow a title winning season, there are more problems than one man can fix for City. Yaya isn't going to prevent multiple goals from the opposition every match, and City have been allowing multiple goals far too frequently as of late.
2. This wasn't about the missed handball either
Yes, Middlesbrough's Daniel Ayala committed a handball in his team's penalty area. Yes, it should have resulted in a penalty kick to City. But given how poorly City played in the final hour of today's match, that missed call was rendered meaningless. As fight pundits would say, if you need a referee's decision to win the match, you probably didn't deserve to win at all.
3. City's defenders need to improve immediately
While watching the comedy of errors that was City's defense during the first Middlesbrough goal, it was easy to chalk the sequence that allowed it up to nothing more than a simple mistake. But Vincent Kompany and company (I'm sorry), have been making too many mistakes that have lead to goals. Putting aside an opening half hour in which City looked strong despite not scoring, Boro looked like the superior team and were unlucky not to have scored three or four times in the match.
City haven't kept a clean sheet in a competitive match in over a month. If they are to have a chance to catch up to Chelsea in the Premier League table or topple Barcelona in the Champions League, that will need to change right away.
4. Middlesbrough are pretty good!
Yeah, City weren't good today. But to completely discount the efforts of Middlesbrough would be a disservice to everyone. They brought constant pressure in the game's final hour, something City was unable to muster. While City supporters can blame the Abu Dhabi trip, Middlesbrough were far and away the better side today and deserved to advance in the FA Cup. With Boro currently in a position to be promoted to the Premier League, they certainly showed why today.