City's clash with Burnley featured a number of intriguing storylines, most notably City's pursuit of Chelsea atop the Premier League as well as Burnley's ongoing attempt to escape from the basement of the first division.
Burnley have struggled to climb out of the relegation zone this season, but they took a step in the right direction with a stunning 1-0 victory over the defending champions. City managed over 70 percent of the possession in the match, but an inability to find the back of the net ultimately doomed Manuel Pellegrini's side.
The game itself turned out to be a rather mundane affair, but the result was absolutely devastating to City's title chances, a takeaway from Saturday's setback that was certainly not lost on Pellegrini. After the game, Pellegrini offered his thoughts on the defeat:
"This was a very important game for us, as they all are from now until the end of the season, so we are of course very disappointed.
"The issue for us at present is that we are not winning the games that we normally do, especially against teams we are expected to beat and that is because we are not scoring goals.
"We must continue to fight but the chances of winning the title are far as things stand."
Burnley's admirable level of effort was on show throughout the game, and Sean Dyche's side were rewarded for their tireless work by way of a second-half goal from George Boyd. Boyd's scorcher in the 61st minute fizzed into the bottom corner past a helpless Joe Hart. Boyd's wonder strike was the Clarets' only shot on goal all evening, but it was enough to break the deadlock and ultimately bury City.
Pellegrini will need to find a way for his squad to catch Chelsea, who are five points clear of City and have two games in hand, if they are to repeat as league champions. However, City's lackluster performance against Burnley was not very promising, as they failed to capitalize against one of the league's cellar dwellers. Sergio Aguero may have looked in the mood, but he has not logged a goal in three straight league fixtures now. Though this is not an egregious offense, City really need him to be scoring against the likes of Burnley, especially because Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko and substitute Wilfried Bony all struggled to impose their will on the Clarets' defense. City managed a handful of chances, but the Sky Blues were relatively flat for much of the match. David Silva was uncharacteristically ineffective, while Yaya Toure lumbered around and turned in a perfectly average performance.
George Boyd's thunderbolt from some 20 yards out ultimately proved to be the difference, as City looked forlorn and failed to generate much on offense throughout the contest.
A crucial moment in the match came in stoppage time, as Burnley defender Ben Mee clumsily tackled Pablo Zabaleta inside the area. Referee Andre Marriner elected not to award a spot kick, and quite honestly, it was nearly impossible to determine whether or not the challenge merited a penalty for City. Mee did not win the ball, but Zabaleta's appeal was not aided by the fact that he appeared to go down a bit too readily.
Referring to the no-call, Pellegrini said:
"Was it a penalty? Maybe, but the referee decides these moments and I don't think that was the most important thing in this game."
The forecast for City to repeat as champions is looking increasingly grim, and the team's inability to get a result from a very winnable game highlighted the Citizens' current struggles and mediocre form.
Pellegrini summed it up succinctly:
"We have 27 points more we must fight for."
It is officially crunch time for City. Pellegrini's side may be sailing against the wind, but the final few chapters of the Premier League season never fail to deliver adequate drama. Aside from impressive wins against Stoke City and Newcastle United, City have been in a slump since the commencement of 2015. But there is enough time for one last push. There is still plenty of football yet to be played, and even elite teams like Chelsea slip up from time to time. However, City's form will need to improve as the end of the season nears.
City are no strangers to late-season drama, but their hopes to repeat as champions took a major blow after coming up empty against Burnley.