Manuel Pellegrini's big-game failures were seen again at Anfield
There isn't a Manchester City fan alive, who would swap the victory on penalties over Liverpool at Wembley last Sunday for a better result at Anfield three days later. The Capital One Cup final win marked a third trophy in three years under Manuel Pellegrini and put a smile on supporters' faces after a hit-and-miss season.
However, that smile was long since forgotten on Wednesday as the stark reality of City's Premier League campaign hit home. Both sides had played 120 minutes in the final, having had a European match in the midweek before but, while City struggled, Liverpool had no issues in performing.
But as good as their opposition were at Anfield, City beat themselves. Not a single player for the away side put in a good performance -- with some more disastrously poor than others -- while the manager raised questions by making decisions on the touchline that were, at best, naive and careless.
Having watched Liverpool tear through his midfield like a knife through hot butter in the first half, Pellegrini decided to hook Raheem Sterling at the break and turn a man playing against his old club, who had been no worse than his peers, into a source of fun for the Liverpool fans.
Pellegrini also removed Fernandinho in order to bring on another striker and that move had two effects. It isolated Wilfried Bony and Kelechi Iheanacho alongside Sergio Aguero and also allowed the Merseysiders even more freedom through the middle.
It's baffling how City have managed to be both successful and go backwards under the Chilean's stewardship. It's hard to argue they've not regressed since he arrived in 2013, as a good first campaign is now being quickly overshadowed by increasingly limp displays.
Yet after the match fans were treated to the same "we fight to the end" lines the club has used before, when in truth they haven't been fighting for some time.
It's nothing new for Pellegrini to have struggled in a big match, especially away from home. In his first year, he managed a point from visits to the other top four teams: Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. At home things were better, winning two of three.
Last season, City won once in six matches against the other top four teams; only 10-man Manchester United fell to a defeat at the Etihad. Arsenal and Chelsea took points both home and away in the other fixtures, and there was also a humiliating loss at Old Trafford.
The pattern has continued in 2015-16. In 13 matches so far against teams in the top half of the Premier League, City have taken just nine points: Won two, drawn three and lost eight. Not since October have Pellegrini's men won back-to-back league games and the current run of three straight top-flight defeats is the first time that has happened since Mark Hughes was in charge of the club in 2008.
Five matches into this campaign, critics were raving about how City would walk the title. However, after a record of 15 points and no goals conceded from that opening run, just 32 points have been claimed from the next 22 fixtures.
It's not quite the six defeats in eight games Pellegrini oversaw in 2014-15, but it's not far off and City are currently on course for 66 points this season, which would be their lowest tally since 2008-09.
The club is still over-reliant on its stars of 2012 and, for whatever reason, they just haven't cut it for 18 months. For spells, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero have been off-form or out of the team through injury. Those that have been brought in to deputise haven't been up to scratch and questions certainly need to be raised about transfers made since the last title win in 2014.
Now, the preseason title favourites face a battle to hang on to their position in the top four. That City are tied with a Manchester United team that has been ridiculed is a damning indictment on the job Pellegrini has done. Indeed, there's even a case to be made that United manager Louis Van Gaal has performed better, given the difference in quality between the respective squads.
It sounds like "spoilt-brat syndrome" from the City fans, who are complaining despite the manager's trophy haul, but there is something seriously wrong at the Etihad.
Had City not agreed a deal with Pep Guardiola to take over, there can't be much doubt that the Chilean would have been relieved of his duties some time ago. Are there any reasons to keep the Chilean until he steps down at the end of the season? A lack of available interim managers seems to be the only one.
David Mooney is a writer and a radio journalist based in Manchester. He is also news editor on 104.9 Imagine FM. Twitter: @DavidMooney