Manuel Pellegrini has lamented an intensive recent schedule that contributed heavily to his players lacking freshness during their disappointing defeat to Liverpool on 2 March. Goals from Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino condemned the Capital One Cup winners to their third consecutive Premier League defeat at Anfield, a result that keeps them fourth and 10 points adrift of leaders Leicester with only one game in hand.
City should have boasted a significant psychological advantage over their opponents just three days removed from that penalty shoot-out success, but instead produced an extremely lacklustre performance during which they rarely looked capable of scoring aside from a first-half Sergio Aguero header that was blocked by the chest of Milner. Pellegrini's side were carved open on numerous occasions at the other end and wasted the perfect opportunity to make up ground on title rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, both of whom slipped to surprising defeats on Wednesday night.
Such a limp loss followed a busy period that involved that taxing cup final in addition to a long trip to Ukraine for the first leg of City's Champions League last-16 first-leg tie against Dynamo Kiev. Liverpool have also endured a hectic week with their heartbreaking Wembley defeat coming soon after a home Europa League tie against Augsburg, although Pellegrini clearly felt they had recovered much better.
"It is difficult to have an excuse but I saw the team was not recovered from the last week," he told BBC Sport after the full-time whistle on Merseyside. "We played Champions League and then League Cup final and I saw team was not fresh and Liverpool played better.
"The last two days we work very light, just try to recover the players but from beginning they won all the balls and had a high pace - more pace than our team. We didn't attack well and create chances and didn't have fresh legs to play like we can. It seems like the Premier League continues being the same from the start and very close. We will continue fighting."
With their title bid having dramatically stalled, City, who withdrew Raheem Sterling at half-time after the England international was kept in check by Jon Flanagan on an underwhelming return to his former club, may face the prospect of dropping out of the top four altogether after Manchester United's smash-and-grab win over Watford brought them level with their local rivals. Sixth-place West Ham are also just one point behind after another home goal from Michail Antonio secured their latest victory.
City can afford nothing less than a maximum return from their next two fixtures against relegation battlers Aston Villa and Norwich. They then host Kiev for the return leg before the small matter of a Manchester derby on 20 March.