Manchester City missed the chance to go second in the Premier League as they were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Stoke on Wednesday.
In what was another blow to any lingering title hopes, City failed to break down a resilient Potters side after manager Pep Guardiola opted to leave out in-form Raheem Sterling.
The stalemate, City's fifth home draw this season, left Guardiola's men third in the table and trailing leaders Chelsea by 10 points.
Guardiola's decision to rotate his squad also saw playmaker David Silva start on the bench and it was not until the Spaniard's second-half introduction that they started to play with any purpose.
After a drab first period, City finally awoke but were unable to break through as Silva, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane and Kelechi Iheanacho all missed good chances.
Afterwards Guardiola refused to accept his selection had backfired, insisting he had little choice due to the team's upcoming schedule.
City face Middlesbrough away in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday before travelling to Monaco in the Champions League and then hosting Liverpool next week.
Guardiola said: "The rotations are good when you are successful in the results, but when you're not always we miss the other people.
"But the competition is a lot of games. When you have one game a week, you can play 11 players no problem but when you have a lot of games you have to make a rotation."
Guardiola did not categorically rule City out of the title race, however.
He said: "We have to be focused game by game. After four or five games we have to see where we are and fight for the next games."
Guardiola accepted his side's home form has been disappointing. City have won just seven of their 13 games at the Etihad Stadium.
He said: "Our results away are much better than at home. We dropped points. We have to analyse."