Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has admitted his frustration at losing ground in the title race.
The champions have slipped seven points behind Chelsea at the top of the Premier League after a dismal run of results where they have not won in five games in all competitions.
Pellegrini said: “It’s frustrating. We had a very good month in December, won a lot of games. We got to the top of the table, but then for different reasons, we didn’t score. But this team continues to have a lot of possession, good attitude, we are running a lot.
“To be seven points behind again is disappointing for all of us. But it doesn’t mean that we are not going to fight to recover those points.”
Pressure is growing on Pellegrini — and one report even claiming City are monitoring Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone as a potential successor.
But the 61-year-old, speaking ahead of tonight’s trip to Stoke, said: “I never feel pressure, I have repeated the same answer for the same question for the last two years. The only pressure is my own pressure that I make myself when I don’t feel the team is playing well.”
Despite that, there is a feeling the heat is on City. Stoke’s form contrasts with that of City, with the Potters having won six and lost just one of their last nine games.
They also won at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season and are unbeaten in their last six home league games against City.
Pellegrini said: “They are a very good team, not only at this moment — they are always a very difficult team, especially at the Britannia. But we are going to go as we always do away, to try and win.”
City will be without Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony, who are yet to return following their success with Ivory Coast at the African Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea.
Meanwhile Stoke boss Mark Hughes faces City without another star name he has hailed as “a game changer”.
Hughes’ injury woes are mounting as midfielder Stephen Ireland faces a fortnight on the sidelines with a hamstring problem that forced him off in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Newcastle.
Ireland is joined on the sidelines by Marc Wilson (groin), another casualty from the trip to St James’ Park, along with captain Ryan Shawcross (back), Erik Pieters (hernia), and long-term duo Bojan Krkic and Peter Odemwingie (both knee).
Hughes — who said he is close to signing a new deal at Stoke —, knows former Manchester City star Ireland’s loss will be felt, as he said: “It’s a blow for him as well as the team.
“Stephen had come in and made an impact, which tempered the loss of Bojan because there was a bit of doom and gloom obviously.
“Unfortunately injuries have been the story of his season because he was our best performer in pre-season and he looked like he was going to start very strong. He was playing well, but unfortunately went out through injury, and then he came back in, did okay, but was then out again.
“It’s a shame for him because he has that vision and creativity you need at Premier League level. You need game-changers and players who will make a difference and Stephen is one of those.”