March has been a topsy-turvy month for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, whose League Cup triumph over Sunderland was followed by last weekend’s shock defeat by Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup and the mid-week Champions League loss to Barcelona.
It is three weeks since City last played a league game — winning 1-0 at home to Stoke City on February 22 — and in the intervening time they have seen Chelsea pull nine points clear of them at the top of the table.
The 2012 champions now have three games in hand and, with Liverpool and Arsenal both seven points off the pace (albeit with a game in hand each), they seem the side most likely to knock Chelsea off the summit.
Their cup commitments have left a mark, however, with top scorer Sergio Aguero a doubt for the trip to the KC Stadium after being withdrawn due to a hamstring problem during Wednesday’s game at Barcelona.
Hull will be buoyed by having reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1930 last weekend, but City midfielder Samir Nasri says that his side are supremely motivated by the challenge of reeling Chelsea in.
“We don’t have a choice. Now our target is to win the league,” he told reporters after City’s 2-1 defeat at Camp Nou extinguished their hopes of a trophy treble.
“I think here we showed we have the quality to be up there with the best teams in Europe. It is a good thing for us. It is important now to finish the season well and win the league.”
With Saturday’s game a lunchtime kick-off, victory for City would provisionally take them to within six points of Chelsea, who visit mid-table Aston Villa later in the day.
Chelsea crushed Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, but despite their sizeable lead, goalkeeper Petr Cech has echoed manager Jose Mourinho by expressing caution over their title chances.
“City have enough experience and quality in their squad to win their games in hand, and it’s up to them to do that,” he told the club website. “We are in a good position, we go game by game, and we try to do our best.”
– Liverpool visit wounded United
Sunday sees two of English football’s most enduring fixtures take centre stage, with Manchester United hosting Liverpool at Old Trafford before Arsenal visit Tottenham in the north London derby.
With United nine points below fourth-place City, having played two games more, they will be desperate to beat old rivals Liverpool and enhance their fading hopes of Champions League qualification.
Liverpool, however, have reignited their title challenge by winning their last four games and manager Brendan Rodgers is relishing the prospect of pitting his side against a wounded United.
“Sunday is a game we are really looking forward to. For us, it’s about retaining the focus,” he told talkSPORT radio station. “We know it’s a big game, but we’ve done well in a lot of the big games this season.”
The derby encounter at White Hart Lane will be another high-stakes clash, as Arsenal look to keep pace with Chelsea and fifth-place Spurs seek to bounce back from their drubbing at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal’s preparations have been hampered by reports that Mesut Ozil is likely to be sidelined for four weeks due to a hamstring injury sustained during his side’s Champions League exit at Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is already without England internationals Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, while Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey has suffered a setback in his recovery from a thigh complaint.
Elsewhere, Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew will serve the first match of a seven-game ban for headbutting Hull midfielder David Meyler when his side visit bottom club Fulham, who are four points adrift of safety.
Meanwhile, second-bottom Sunderland will hope to drag Crystal Palace into the relegation quagmire when they welcome Tony Pulis’s side to the Stadium of Light.
Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Aston Villa v Chelsea (1730 GMT), Everton v Cardiff City, Fulham v Newcastle United, Hull City v Manchester City (1245 GMT), Southampton v Norwich City, Stoke City v West Ham United, Sunderland v Crystal Palace, Swansea City v West Bromwich Albion
Manchester United v Liverpool (1330 GMT), Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal (1600 GMT)