Manchester City's season has hit a bump at a bad time, and a victory at home to Hull City on Saturday will help bolster their bid to play Champions League football.
City’s 2-1 defeat at leaders Chelsea on Wednesday means they have now gone more than a month without a Premier League victory.
Successive league draws against Stoke, Liverpool and Arsenal, followed by the result at Stamford Bridge, have seen City manager Pep Guardiola’s team slip to fourth place in the standings.
They were also eliminated from the Champions League by Monaco during that period, meaning that the City manager’s only realistic hope of ending his first season in England with a trophy lies with the FA Cup.
It has been a less successful campaign than many predicted when Guardiola arrived from Bayern Munich in July with a record of 21 trophies from seven seasons in management.
In the Spaniard's defence, the squad he has taken on at City does not have the spread of world-class talent that he worked with at Barcelona and in Munich, but there have been many signs that the competitive nature of the Premier League has taken him by surprise.
Amid the disappointment of defeat at Stamford Bridge, one significant bonus for Guardiola was the return to action of Vincent Kompany.
The club captain has been struck down by a series of injury setbacks over the last three years, and had not played for more than two months before making his comeback on Wednesday and completing the full 90 minutes.
Kompany has had to work hard to convince Guardiola that he is fit enough for a chance, and believes his return should serve as a message to the club’s young players that effort on the training pitch will get you a chance at City.
"It wasn’t the easiest game to get back into but what I would say in terms of advice to younger players is: I could have stood back and moaned and complained that I wasn’t playing but I never did," Kompany said.
"I worked very hard for that one opportunity and within the conditions that were available to me. I was helpful to the team. That’s what I wanted to do."
Midfielder Fabian Delph was another surprise starter for City, having been in and out of the team this season, suggesting Guardiola is looking at different options as he seeks a strong finish to the league season.
Perhaps his most surprising move in that respect has been the experimenting with winger Jesus Navas as a right-back.
However, that move has shown little sign of working so far, and it seems Guardiola is unlikely to persist with the decision.
Hull climbed out of the bottom three for the first time since October with a 4-2 midweek victory over relegation rivals Middlesbrough.
The Tigers are unbeaten at home since Marco Silva took over as head coach in January, with seven wins out of eight leaving them two points clear of danger to boost their hopes of avoiding an immediate return to the second-tier Championship.
Hull have struggled on their travels, however, with their only away win in the league arriving at Swansea back in August.
"We need to start translating our home form to when we go away because in front of our own fans we are playing well and with a lot of confident," said Silva.
"We have come a long way since I arrived, but I keep stressing to the players that we have achieved nothing yet in our battle to be out of the bottom three at the end of the season."
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