Manchester - Manuel Pellegrini has warned his Manchester City stars there can be no repeat of their woeful defeat at Liverpool if they are to revive their slender Premier League title hopes against Aston Villa.
City's 3-0 loss at Anfield was their third league defeat in a row and even though they have a game in a hand, bridging a 10-point gap between themselves and leaders Leicester City over the final two months of the season will be a monumental task.
The worrying statistic for City is that, despite looking good in cup competitions, they have won just one of four league matches since boss Pellegrini announced on February 1 that he would be leaving at the end of the season to make way for Pep Guardiola.
A home game against bottom club Villa on Saturday ought to provide the opportunity to begin collecting league points again and Pellegrini has made clear that a repeat of Wednesday's performance will not be accepted.
"Of course, we cannot play in the way we did. Not only did we concede three goals but we didn't shoot once at the Liverpool goal," Pellegrini said.
"I think it was because we were not fresh. I am not thinking about the title and not thinking about trying to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League.
"The most important thing is to recover our level of performance in the Premier League because we have lost the last three.
"I am surprised by this. We didn't expect to lose 3-0 at Liverpool."
The match against Villa will be City's fifth in 14 days, a sequence that has brought mixed results.
The highlights were undoubtedly a 3-1 away win over Dynamo Kiev that leaves Pellegrini's side well placed to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in their history, and the penalty shoot-out victory over Liverpool at Wembley in the League Cup final.
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His team looked weary at Anfield on Wednesday, though, and were overwhelmed in midfield without the influence of Yaya Toure, who missed the match with a foot injury.
Toure, who scored the winning kick in the League Cup final shoot-out, will be assessed to see if he is fit to return.
City remain without winger Kevin De Bruyne, who is expected to return from a knee injury at the beginning of April, which is also when midfielder Samir Nasri hopes to be fit again, having been out of action since October with hamstring problems.
Villa, who appear doomed to relegation after another defeat in midweek left them eight points adrift of safety, could have a bearing on the title race in the coming weeks with a game against Tottenham Hotspur to follow their clash with City.
But Villa manager Remi Garde is adamant his club still have something to play for in their own right.
"We are now coming into games against teams at the top of the table at the end of the season, which is not a good thing because points are crucial for them as well as us," Garde said.
"But in football you never know. Sometimes games are going in a way that no one has expected before.
"We must ensure we are not focused too much on our opponents -- we have to focus on what we can improve and what we can do.
"We have to do the maximum every game and not focus too much on what others can do."
Garde has spoken to his players in the wake of Tuesday's 3-1 home defeat to Everton.
"I said to them that in difficult situations like this one we have to stick all together," Garde added.
"It's already very difficult outside the changing room and I don't want anyone in the group to add problems within us. We will stick together and look to win the next game."