A month ago, it was believed that time was the only obstacle preventing Manchester City from restoring order to the Premier League, and they would eventually win their third championship in five years.
Time is rapidly expiring.
In danger of dropping out of the top four, City try to avoid their longest losing streak in league play in seven years Saturday against last-place Aston Villa.
Manchester City (14-5-8) were three points behind leaders Leicester City following a 1-0 win at Sunderland on Feb. 2. The Citizens were positioned to spoil the Foxes' dream season, and keep the league title among English football's elite - and financially bloated - clubs.
City are now in need of their own storybook ending.
Three straight defeats have dropped them into fourth place in the table, 10 points back of Leicester. However, Manchester City now have to fend off archrivals Manchester United, who are level on points but remain fifth due to playing one more match, for the final Champions League spot.
"It is an important gap, but we are not thinking about other teams," manager Manuel Pellegrini told the team's official website.
City have their own issues to worry about after losing 3-0 at Liverpool while managing just one shot on target Wednesday, sorely missing the influence of injured star midfielder Yaya Toure. That dismal performance came three days after they beat the Reds on penalties to win the League Cup.
Now, Man City are facing the prospects of their first four-game skid in a single season since dropping five in a row from Jan. 20-March 14, 2007.
"It's an important defeat because we now have one game less and we couldn't win one point," Pellegrini said Wednesday. "I hope on Saturday we can return to our normal level of performance."
Considering the opponent, that shouldn't be a problem. City have won eight straight over Aston Villa (3-7-18) at home during league play, but they settled for a dour scoreless draw in Birmingham on Nov. 8 that marked Remi Garde's managerial debut in the Midlands.
While Manchester City's bid to secure a Champions League spot has become precarious, Villa's attempt to avoid being sent down to the Championship for the first time in the Premier League era has never materialised.
Eight points from safety, the Villans have been outscored 11-2 while losing three straight games after falling 3-1 at home to Everton on Tuesday.
"At the moment we are struggling to score goals," Garde told the club's official website. "Conceding too many goals is a problem currently.
"We know the situation is difficult but we have to fight until the end. We have to play with desire, passion and dedication to win games. Sometimes it's difficult - it's very difficult - but I try to make sure that everyone around me still believes it's possible."
The supporters have lost faith. Thousands walked out of Villa Park in the 74th minute Tuesday, protesting the state of the club and owner Randy Lerner, who is being accused of failing to invest in the squad.
The fixture list doesn't provide any relief for Villa, who will host second-place Tottenham Hotspur in their next match.
Man City would like to capitalise on this matchup and get Sergio Aguero going again. The forward has failed to score in the last two league games after tallying six times over the previous four. He's got four goals in his last three Premier League meetings with Aston Villa.
Pellegrini may be considering 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho for the first team since he bagged a hat trick in a 4-0 win over Villa in the FA Cup on Jan. 30. Two of the Nigeria international's three league goals have been match-winners.