Roberto Mancini had a point when he turned on the questioner in his recent press conference who suggested that Manchester City were in crisis. Unbeaten in the Premier League, sitting second in the table, with a potent, unblemished home record stretching back longer than most memories can contain: it was an odd definition of crisis, for sure.
And yet, watching City labour on Saturday at West Ham and then commit howlingly awful defensive blunders last night, there does appear to be something adrift at the Etihad. Something not clicking. Something not right.
In many ways, the conditions were ideal for City really to kick on this season, annihilate all opposition and make their economic advantage really count. Their most likely challengers for supremacy all appeared to have issues. Chelsea needed rebuilding, United had clung on last season mainly surviving on memory, while Arsenal continued to haemorrhage talent.
It was not ridiculous to expect City, with the confidence that sprung from finally winning the title, with a mature and gifted squad at the peak of their powers, with a bunch of players hungry for success, to dominate the domestic scene, if not Europe.
There were many who thought the pattern of last autumn — with City hammering all comers, hitting the neighbours for six and lighting up the division — would be repeated this year. That's what Chelsea did under Jose Mourinho. That's what United have done repeatedly over the last two decades. Instead City have been stodgy and uninspiring in the Premier League and flaky and unconvincing in Europe.
Mancini offers a simple explanation — teams are raising their game against the champions. Which might explain some of the weekend results, but not the European ones. Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax have no history with the club against which they are reacting. They aren't trying harder because City won the league last year.
Some observers suggest that the blame lies with the manager's autocratic and aloof style that has alienated the dressing room. Except the comebacks evident at the Hawthorns three weeks ago and last night against Ajax do not suggest a squad lacking in spirit or togetherness.
Others merely blame Mario Balotelli. After all, he is one of nature's most obvious scapegoats. But in fact, as he demonstrated last night when he came on as substitute and invigorated the side, the Italian's pace and ball control is always a threat.
Actually, the explanation is more prosaic than any of those. The truth is, City really miss David Silva. Last autumn, the Spaniard was the fountainhead of all their good football. He was the creator, the conjuror, the orchestrator. Buzzing around just behind the forwards, he created havoc in rival defences. Without the man who acted as their can opener, this season City have looked a bit sluggish, a bit one dimensional, a shadow of the pacy, slick, smooth operation of last autumn.
It has been a gradual process, but now all the leading teams in the Premier League have adopted the Barcelona method of two holding midfielders with a quick-witted, fleet-footed threesome playing behind a lone striker. Chelsea have changed in one summer from a team that won the Champions League by out-powering their opponents, to a slick Barca-style attacking force. If they had bought Robin van Persie to convert all those chances their diminutive threesome of Mata, Oscar and Hazard create, they would be over the horizon already.
United's version is slightly different, with Rooney operating between two quick wingers. And they have the Dutchman to put the ball in the net. But such systems depend on a really sharp number 10 to pull it all together. Mata and Rooney are doing just that, occasionally Santi Cazorla is too. But without Silva, the method is not firing at City.
In Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure they have excellent holding midfielders. And they have a surfeit of superb front men. Silva, though, is the man they need to keep their middle three ticking. You only have to see how much more effective Samir Nasri is when Silva plays to appreciate the difference he makes. It may sound harsh, but Nasri is not good enough to play such a role himself. Especially when more often than not his two colleagues in the threesome are natural forwards rather than born midfielders.
Some might suggest that it is Mancini's fault that he has not brought in a proper understudy for Silva. And indeed his summer purchases were not great. If anyone can explain why Scott Sinclair is a better bet than Adam Johnson (apart from in his approach to post-match refuelling) it would be good to hear.
The fact is, without Silva City look sometimes one-dimensional, lacking in width and pace. But the bad news for all those writing the club — and Mancini — off is that their playmaker will soon be back in action. And when he is firing again, we may well see the City of last autumn, returning.