LONDON • So much has changed for Manchester City in the space of a week.
Two rounds of matches and two defeats later, a one-point gap has turned into a sizeable seven-point lead for Liverpool (51 points) over the Premier League champions.
And should City continue their downward spiral at revitalised Southampton on Sunday, their title defence could be over by the time they welcome the buoyant Reds to the Etihad Stadium next Thursday.
While it is not in Pep Guardiola's psyche to panic, even with his side faltering as the title race picks up pace at the halfway mark, the manager would have recognised the need to sharpen up fast.
He acknowledged that uncertainty had crept into the minds of his players after the 2-1 loss at Leicester on Wednesday, their third defeat in four league games.
He told Sky Sports: "The fact is we lost three in four, and the last two, and if you want to be real contenders, we have to win again.
"As soon as possible, we have to try to win again for our mood, our confidence and our desire. You have to be confident to play and to come back."
CITY'S WIN RATE WITH FERNANDINHO - 71.3%
WITHOUT FERNANDINHO - 59.3%
The Spaniard admitted he had to "change the dynamic" in his team as Liverpool and Tottenham (45 points), who have leapfrogged City into second, were now "better than us at the moment".
He said: "You have to accept it, and it's important to accept where we are and they are improving.
"The reality is there are two or three teams better than us. We're not talking about whether we can get to (the level of) Liverpool, the issue is about winning another game, and thinking in ourselves about how we can improve."
While he still retains faith in "how exceptional the lads are in the locker room", he knows they face the greatest test of their character in the coming week.
"Good results make miracles in the mind. Now there will be doubts, and what you have to do is try to put in a good performance. But we are able to do that. I never doubt them. I don't forget who we are, how good we are," the City manager added.
However, he is also well aware his defence lacks a real shield in the absence of Fernandinho, who missed his second straight league game with knee trouble and remains a doubt this weekend.
City do not have a natural replacement for the Brazilian enforcer, which was why he was so desperate to land Jorginho, who eventually moved to Chelsea in the summer.
Without Fernandinho, their win percentage drops to 59.3 from 71.3.
Sky Sports pundit Steve Sidwell believes no other City player can perform the same role, although the former Fulham midfielder also felt the rest of the team were not pulling their weight.
He said: "Fernandinho does a lot of work there. But I think it's down to a lack of mentality that Pep Guardiola will not be happy about.
"Look at the results they've lost there, Crystal Palace and Leicester, and they'll be very disappointed with (the) Palace (loss) having been at home as well."
Another problem area for City is at left-back, where first-choice Benjamin Mendy is not expected to return from injury until at least February.
His replacement Fabian Delph was sent off at the King Power Stadium and he will miss the Saints and Reds games owing to a three-game ban. That leaves Oleksandr Zinchenko or Aymeric Laporte there and they are far from ideal options in that position.
However, Sidwell refused to rule City out of the title race despite their poor run, backing them to turn things around with "the quality they have got".
He added: "If there's one team, when you're top, who you don't want to be chasing you, then it's going to be this City team.
"The depth of squad they've got, they can go out and win games convincingly."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON