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5 reasons for Manchester City's title-race wobble as huge Liverpool clash looms; City blew the rest away last season but go into Thursday's battle with the leaders just third after three losses in four games.

Byline: Simon Mullock

Manchester City's season has started to unravel after the perfect storm descended on the Etihad.

Halfway through the 2018-19 Premier League campaign, Pep Guardiola's defending champions are on course to collect 88 points.

That total would have won them the title in 13 of the 23 years since the top division was first fought out over 38 games.

But three defeats in their last four outings have left City trailing not only table-topping Liverpool but Tottenham, too.

The Bluesnow face a trip to A-struggling Southampton, who are showing signs of life under new boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, on Sunday before a A-titanic clash with Jurgen Klopp's pacesetters back home in Manchester on A-Thursday.

Here, we take a look at what's gone wrong for the team that smashed Premier League records last season and became the first top-flight club to rack up 100 points.

Last season, City were home and hosed in the title race before Christmas. That meant they were able to play pressure-free football.

The only time City felt the strain was when they faced Liverpool in two Champions League quarter-final ties, either side of a A-Manchester derby in which they could have clinched the title. They lost all three games.

This season, Liverpool matched their brilliant start -- and it was City who cracked first by losing to Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Leicester.

City had the perfect opportunity to give Jurgen Klopp's men a bloody nose at Anfield in October -- but when Riyad Mahrez skied a last-minute penalty it meant the Blues have now failed to beat Liverpool in their last four attempts.

The Amazon documentary series that followed City's march to the title illustrated how Klopp and A-Liverpool got in Guardiola's head.

Just three days before the Champions League trip to Anfield, City faced Everton at Goodison Park. Instead of concentrating on the challenge of Sam Allardyce's team, the cameras captured a A-conversation Guardiola was having with his coaching staff.

"They (Liverpool) scare me," he said. "They're dangerous. I mean it."

When City were champions in 2012 and 2014, they suffered in the following seasons after doing poor business in the transfer market.

Sergio Aguero's dramatic strike against QPR snatched the title from Manchester United in 2012, but Sir Alex Ferguson responded by landing Robin van Persie from A-Arsenal when Roberto Mancini thought he had a deal for the Dutchman in the bag.

City's sporting director, Brian Marwood, signed Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Maicon, Javi Garcia and Matija Nastasic. All of them flopped as they finished second to United, lost to Wigan in the FA Cup Final and sacked Mancini.

In 2014, after Manuel Pellegrini had beaten Liverpool to the title, City's transfer spend was limited to [pounds sterling]49million when they failed FFP.

Yet director of football Txiki A-Begiristain blew [pounds sterling]40m on Eliaquim Mangala, [pounds sterling]14m on Fernando and [pounds sterling]8m on Willy Caballero. Later, [pounds sterling]28m went on Wilfried Bony.

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City were left to rely on free transfers such as Frank Lampard and Bacary Sagna and finished second, eight points behind Chelsea.

They lost out to Manchester United in the race to sign Fred from Shakhtar Donesk and, when Jorginho opted to follow his former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri to A-Chelsea, the alarm bells should have been ringing.

Instead, Begiristain smashed the club's transfer record by spending [pounds sterling]60m on Mahrez when they A-already had Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva to play in wide positions.

Even City's huge squad has found it A-impossible to cope with injuries to big players.

Kevin De Bruyne was the star A-performer last season, but the Belgian was sidelined for two months after damaging knee ligaments in August and has only just returned to A-action.

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Key players Aguero, David Silva and A-Fernandinho have also spent time in the treatment room after muscle problems that call into question Pep Guardiola's high-intensity style of pressing.

Benjamin Mendy is once again recovering from knee surgery and keeper Claudio Bravo will not play this term after tearing a cruciate.

City's dressing room is hardly populated by football's bad boys, but there have been times when Guardiola has had to stamp his authority on the squad.

After ordering Mendy to cut back on his social media A-activity, the City boss was furious when the French defender turned up three hours late for treatment on a metatarsal injury the morning after going to watch an Anthony Joshua fight in London.

Mendy was told to stay away from the club for a week.

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Leroy Sane was left out of one match-day squad because Guardiola felt his attitude wasn't right.

Guardiola himself boobed with that last-minute penalty against Liverpool when he ordered Mahrez to take it, later admitting he didn't know the Algerian had missed five of his last eight penalties.

Aguero, City's record scorer, has hit the net 12 times in 20 games, but last found the target in the Premier League in early November and has looked sluggish.

Gabriel Jesus has failed to live up to his A-promise, and Mahrez has struggled.

Even Sterling's blistering form has slowed up.

John Stones is struggling for form, Kyle Walker seems jaded after the World Cup, while Ilkay A-Gundogan has been unimpressive.

Will Manchester City win the Premier League again this season?
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Title Annotation:Sport,Football,News
Publication:Daily Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 29, 2018
Words:918
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