A sight no Manchester City fan wants to see has become all too familiar this season; Vincent Kompany hobbling off the pitch to be substituted in obvious distress.
The latest such incident is all the more gruelling for its timing and context. Firstly, a recurrence of the calf problem which has robbed City’s skipper of so much playing time this season arrived in a virtual dead rubber of a European game against Dynamo Kiev with the tie in the bag.
This alone is irksome enough for all concerned at the club, despite there being no guarantee Kompany’s suspect calves would have survived the next test.
Secondly, said next test happens to be a pivotal Manchester derby in the battle Manuel Pellegrini’s side now face just to remain in the top four, let alone chase a title that is all but gone.
Having reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time, optimism another giant leap could have been made whatever the draw throws at them, will now be severely checked.
Although his teammates have secured progression largely in Kompany’s absence this season, none of veteran understudy Martin Demichelis, hugely-expensive flop Eliaquim Mangala or the often erratic Nicolas Otamendi inspire confidence at the very highest level.
However, simply qualifying for the competition next season is now a far more pressing concern for the Citizens, especially with Pep Guardiola due to take charge.
As mentioned above, Sunday’s game against bitter rivals United at the Etihad is just the first of nine cup finals for City, with Pellegrini citing a maximum return of 27 points as the club’s only hope of turning their title bid around.
Odds of 14/1 with bwin.com on them being crowned tend to underline what a pipe dream that is for the outgoing Chilean.
Rather, they need to concentrate on fending off the competition for fourth spot, with a queue of unwelcome admirers piling up behind the stuttering two-time Premier League champs like wannabe brides waiting for the bouquet.
Fourth-spot dark horses West Ham may already have dislodged them (albeit by a point) going into Sunday’s Manchester derby, if the Irons can continue their trend of upsetting the top-flight’s big guns when they visit Chelsea on Saturday.
United could move to within a point if they leave the Etihad with all three and in-form Liverpool look intent on mounting their own late surge.
With only two wins on the board in nine across all competitions, and stripped of Kompany, and Otamendi most probably for the visit of Louis van Gaal’s men, backing City at 83/100 cannot be done with any conviction.
The Citizens have already lost to Liverpool, West Ham and Leicester at home without the Belgian this season and the Etihad vessel is far more vulnerable to leaking when the captain isn’t there to steer it.