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Stoppage Time: City's title sprint starts against Chelsea

Wednesday will prove to be a defining moment in Manchester City's season.

The Citizens ended their 35-year silverware drought last season when they hoisted the FA Cup with a defeat of Stoke City. That triumph, paired with the millions spent on new summer signings by the City ownership group, spawned the hope of many trophies to celebrate for the blue-half of Manchester.

It hasn't necessarily panned out that way.

City was ousted from the Champions League earlier than anticipated, bowing out of the prestigious competition at the conclusion of the group stage.

The club then was sent packing in the FA Cup by bitter rivals Manchester United. The fact that the loss came on City's home turf only added insult to injury.

The Citizens came close to reaching the Carling Cup Final, but they were bested over the two-legged semifinals by Liverpool, which eventually went on to claim the trophy with a defeat of Cardiff City on penalties.

And, most recently, Manchester City tied Sporting Lisbon on aggregate in Europa League play, but narrowly lost out on away goals.

So that's four competitions out of five that City will not win this season. That does not seem so harsh for a club with just one trophy in its last 35 years, especially given that the Citizens can still claim the Premier League title as they sit only four points off the pace set by leaders Manchester United. But for the amount of money invested by the Abu Dhabi United Group, it is still a disappointing situation.

All of that frustration can be rectified with a Premier League title.

Winning the league would be something of a double-victory for City. Not only would it provide the club with its first top-flight title since the 1967-68 season, but it also would deny their bitter rivals an English-best 20th championship.

It will not be easy for Roberto Mancini's men. They have led the league for much of the season, but a slip-up at Swansea City last weekend opened the door for Manchester United to climb back into the top spot.

The tough road to Premier League glory starts Wednesday when a rejuvenated Chelsea side visits the Etihad.

The Blues appear be playing at much higher level under caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo, exhibited by last week's sensational 4-1 home victory in the Champions League to complete an improbable aggregate comeback against Napoli, as well as their 5-2 FA Cup win over Leicester City which saw Fernando Torres end his goal drought with a brace.

Wednesday's clash will be a major test of City's title credentials. With matches against Sunderland, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle still remaining, the meeting with Chelsea is just the first of many tough encounters ahead. It is the type of run-in in which the Citizens cannot afford to drop points if they expect to win the title.

Compare that to their title challengers. Other than its match against City, Manchester United does not have a remaining match against any club sitting higher than eighth place, and four of United's next five games come against teams in the bottom six of the Premier League.

City's tilt against Chelsea is not necessarily a must-win. The club will have nine league matches remaining after Wednesday, enough time to overturn a four- point deficit in an English Premier League in which anything can happen.

With a much easier schedule down the stretch, though, the Red Devils are well- positioned to doom the Citizens to yet another season sans silverware. And should Chelsea come away from the Etihad with three points, the psychological edge in the title race would undeniably reside at Old Trafford.

The distractions of European and domestic cup competitions are gone. The Premier League season is going down to the wire as two fierce rivals battle it out and throw everything they have into league play.

The EPL is poised for one of its best finishes in years, and it starts Wednesday at the Etihad.

If the Citizens win, their title credentials will be validated. But if they lose, the blue-half of Manchester will be just that: blue.