London - Manuel Pellegrini's 'Jekyll and Hyde' Manchester City side have taken a backward step since becoming Premier League champions six months ago as they teeter on the brink of an early Champions League exit.
A woeful display in a 2-1 home loss to CSKA Moscow on Wednesday left them without a win and bottom of Group E with two points from four games in Europe's elite club competition.
After an indifferent start to the Premier League campaign, a 1-0 derby win over Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday suggested they may finally be finding the form that saw them crowned champions in May.
But after an all-too-familiar failure to take their domestic form into Europe, they must now beat Bayern Munich at home and AS Roma away in their remaining group games to stand a chance of making the Champions League last 16.
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"That team, in a very short space of time, have taken one almighty step backwards," former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness, a three-time European champion, told Sky Sports on Wednesday. "It's a shadow of the team you saw last year.
"The mark of big players is that they want the ball all the time, even when the roof is caving in, and you didn't see that from City tonight (against CSKA).
"You saw people go absent, people who didn't want the ball. Half of that team didn't want the ball tonight. That team a few months ago looked like a team of world-class players and one which might dominate English football."
Pellegrini has defied the odds in the Champions League before, taking his unfancied former sides Villarreal and Malaga to the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively.
After his appointment at City in June 2013, fans and pundits thought the Chilean coach might finally be able to transform them into a formidable European outfit.
Last season they reached the last 16 for the first time since first qualifying for the Champions League in 2011, narrowly losing over two legs to Barcelona, suggesting Pellegrini could transform City into contenders in Europe.
But they seem unlikely to repeat the feat with midfielders Yaya Toure and Fernandinho suspended after red cards against CSKA and a European squad reduction imposed by UEFA, due to a breach of Financial Fair Play regulations, seriously limiting their options for the visit of Bayern Munich on Nov. 25.
Predictions of a crisis may be premature, with the team third in the Premier League six points behind leaders Chelsea after 10 games, but they must quickly find some form.
Pellegrini is at a loss to explain their slump, which is a worrying sign for the frustrated supporters who booed the team off the pitch on Wednesday.
"It's difficult to know why you have so low a performance. In the way we tried to play we have not changed anything we did in any other games," he said.
"I realise it's a very difficult and strange moment to understand why it happened.
"I don't think it's just this competition. I think in the last two weeks we are not playing bad, but we are not playing the way we normally do.
"I don't understand why, but we must find the reason to arrange the solution."