City will need to win the last two games to guarantee Champions League football next season after losing 4-2 to Southampton.
The only silver lining on an otherwise disappointing afternoon at St Mary’s was another excellent display by Kelechi Iheanacho who added another two goals to his already impressive tally this campaign.
With City’s plea to play this game 24 hours earlier falling on deaf ears, Manuel Pellegrini was given no other option than to rest as many players as he could ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg. It wasn’t quite the wholesale changes made for the FA Cup tie at Chelsea when City again had a game against Dynamo Kyiv to come a few days later, but the boss still brought in eight fresh faces.There were rare rest days for Jesus Navas and Sergio Aguero who stepped down to the bench, while Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany weren’t used at all.The Blues were up against an in-form Southampton side who were keen to make the most of City’s much-changed side.And the hosts made a bright start with City looking shaky at the back, but the first real chance didn’t arrive until the 19th minute and it should have seen the Blues edge ahead.
Iheanacho won possession on the left flank before cutting to the bye-line and laying a pass into the path of Raheem Sterling who didn’t connect as cleanly as he would have liked and his shot was saved by Fraser Forster.
It would prove to be a costly miss as City soon found themselves two goals behind in the blink of an eye.
Each time questions could be asked of the Blues’ defending as first Shane Long out-muscled Nicolas Otamendi to a cross into the six-yard box to poke past Joe Hart and then Sadio Mane raced through in acres of space to fire a low drive past Hart just three minutes later.
Defensively, City were all at sea and with just half-an-hour played, the game looked lost already.
As Southampton pressed for a killer third, the Blues clung on for dear life until an unexpected lifeline came moments before the break.
Iheanacho found Samir Nasri on the right and his low cross was mis-kicked by one Saints player with another knocking the ball into the path of Iheanacho who nodded the ball home coolly from six yards. It most definitely hadn’t been coming, but it was welcome nonetheless and it also underlined what a prospect the young Nigerian, now with 12 goals from just nine starts. And it was Iheanacho who almost brought City level five minutes after the re-start after a one-two with Wilfried Bony before hitting a low drive that Forster held well. It was a much brighter start by the Blues who looked as though they were responding to something of a half-time roasting from the boss, but the hard work in getting back into the game was undone on 57 minutes when the hosts restored their two-goal lead. A whipped in corner was headed goalwards by Jose Fonte and despite Hart somehow getting his head in the way to deflect on to the bar, Mane was quickest to the rebound to poke home from close range.
It would get worse, too, with Mane completing his hat-trick on 68 minutes as he slid home a low shot after appeals for a foul on Kelechi had been waved away by the referee just seconds before.
Iheanacho – head and shoulders the Blues’ best player on the day - refused to accept the game was completely a lost cause as he deliciously curled a dipping shot over Forster on 78 minutes to give the travelling support something to cheer on an otherwise miserable afternoon.
Thoughts will now switch to Real Madrid, but there is still much to be done to secure a top-four finish this season.