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Leadership Vacuum at the Etihad - How City Blew Their Title Defence

09/04/2015 00:17 BST | Updated 08/06/2015 10:59 BST

George Boyd. Jason Puncheon. Philippe Coutinho. Patrick Bamford. The list of the last few players to hit winners against Man City isn't exactly a star-studded one (unless we go into the Champions League games, but let's keep this domestic for now).

With Monday night's loss to Crystal Palace, City's defence of their title is dead and buried. Y'know, even more than it was before. Nine points behind the leaders, who have a game in hand over them. It's not the worst title defence in recent times - that dubious honour has to go to United last season - but it's been pretty limp from a previously all-conquering team.

If anything, this City side is stronger on paper than last year's version. Eliaquim Mangala, Wilfried Bony, Fernando and Bacary Sagna should all have strengthened the side, without any big names moving out. So what's going on?

In previous seasons, City have had a pair of absolute titans for everyone to rally around. Vincent Kompany at the back and Yaya Toure bridging the gap between midfield and attack, both huge characters at the top of their respective games.

When the going got tough, one or both of those players would set the example for the rest of the side, dragging the whole team kicking and screaming into competence.

That kind of talismanic influence mustn't be underestimated. This season, Toure and Kompany have gone into a headfirst dive off the precipice that they were teetering on at the edge of last season. Kompany, while not yet absolutely dreadful, has become a liability. He might still be a decent speaker to his teammates, but he can no longer lead by example as he used to.

Toure is less simple a case. His return of eight league goals and one assist from 23 appearances is still pretty respectable - although less so when compared to last season's record of 20 goals and nine assists from 35.

The thing with midfielders, though, is that they need to do more than just score goals. Toure got away with his lacklustre defensive work last season because of his brilliance in attack, but there were rumblings even in City's success that his work rate was in question.

Cut to 12 months later, and he's gotten even worse. His rate of tackles and interceptions per game have both dropped by about 25% - not too bad in a single game, but symptomatic of a bigger problem over a full season. One of his stats has increased, but it's only his number of fouls committed/game. Hard to put a positive spin on that one, really. He turns 32 soon. His time has passed.

With Toure and Kompany on the wane, City have badly needed someone else in the team to put their hand up. Then they need them to use that hand to smack their teammates around the head before dragging them all back up to an acceptable level. It's not an easy task, but somebody has to do it.

For a while, it looked like Sergio Aguero might be that man. His one-man rescue job against Bayern Munich in the Champions League was phenomenal and should've inspired the team to push on, but the momentum just fizzled out again without anyone to keep pushing.

David Silva has played reasonably well, but he isn't talisman material. Nobody will ever build a team around David Silva. Joe Hart is, apparently, as good as footballers get when it comes to revving up his teammates, but it's hard to influence a game from between the sticks. It's a reactive position on the pitch, and City need to be more proactive.

It's no surprise that they've failed so often this season against 'lesser' teams. Without a leader to bring everyone together, they've looked disorganised, demotivated and completely rudderless. They've upped their performances for the 'big' games, but they've still looked completely lost when the game gets tough, with nobody to grab it by the scruff of the neck.

This season is over for the blue half of Manchester, except for one point of pride - United are one point ahead of them going into the derby. If a United team in flux finished above the reigning champions, the season would go from being a disappointment to a disaster.

Manuel Pellegrini's job is hanging by a thread, indeed there are some people around the club who believe that the decision to fire him has already been made.

This summer will be vital. Leaders have to be found - including, maybe, a new manager. Another poor season, and big names will start to move elsewhere for trophies - then the decline begins. The clock's ticking, and it's going to be a fascinating summer at the Etihad.

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