Mario Balotelli's prospects of a return to Italy with AC Milan before the transfer window closes next week remain in the balance with Manchester City refusing to sanction a cut-price deal in order to cut their ties with the controversial forward.
Balotelli, an unused substitute as David Silva's two goals secured a comfortable victory at home to Fulham on Saturday, has been confirmed as a Milan target - as revealed by The Daily Telegraph on November 12 - by the club's chief executive Adriano Galliani, despite recent comments by owner Silvio Berlusconi describing the 22 year-old as a "rotten apple".
City and Milan remain a sizeable distance apart on their valuation of the player, a pounds 22?million buy from Inter Milan in July 2010, with Galliani insisting over the weekend that Milan will not meet City's pounds 30?million -asking price.
Although the public stance of -manager Roberto Mancini is that Balotelli is not for sale and that he will be given the chance to redeem himself at the club, the reality is that City are prepared to sell the troublesome striker this month, but only if they receive an offer which at least covers their own outlay on the player.
Senior figures at Milan are due to discuss their next move on Balotelli today (Monday), with the San Siro future of Robinho, who is wanted by Brazilian sides Santos and Flamengo, key to their strategy on Balotelli ahead of the January 31 transfer deadline.
With Balotelli having made just two substitute appearances totalling 20 minutes in City's last eight games, Mancini's team have clearly learned how to live without him, a fact underlined by their routine win against Fulham. Silva's opening goal, when he pounced on the loose ball following Mark Schwarzer's save from Edin Dzeko, came just 90 seconds after kick-off and was akin to a pin being inserted into Fulham's balloon.
"We analysed City and we saw that they had a problem against Ajax and Borussia Dortmund if you put their midfield under pressure," Fulham manager Martin Jol said. "This is what we tried to do, but if you concede a goal in the second minute then you can probably put all your plans aside."
Subconsciously, City seemed aware that the game was safe, even though it had only just begun, and it led to a flat encounter, with neither side impressing. Chances were few and far between and it was not until the 69th minute, when Silva scored his second following Carlos Tevez's flick, that the action brought the crowd to life.
Not that entertainment matters at this stage of a campaign, especially when there is a gap to be bridged at the top of table. This win reduced the gap to four points before United's 1-1 draw at Tottenham yesterday afternoon, but despite the distance yet to be travelled in this title race, Mancini's assistant, David Platt, suggested that City are merely hoping for United to blow it.
"Every season is different and people like to have headlines like 'we're coming to get you,'" Platt said. "But the fact of the matter is that United are clear at this moment in time.
"It's not over, we can make it up, it's not insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination. But equally, it's theirs to lose. I think both sides will drop points between now and the end of the season. We just have to make sure that that gap doesn't increase, that we're there because we have no control over what happens at United."