Manchester City did not concede a goal in their six January games but manager Roberto Mancini fears they might have put one in their own net by failing to invest in the transfer window.
"It's been difficult in January to find really good players. Really difficult," he said. The only business was Mario Balotelli's sale to AC Milan for pounds 19?million in what amounted to a concession that Mancini simply could not get the best out of the striker.
Mancini said the deal, was "good for all the components of the club, and for Mario - it was important to get him to go back to Italy". Mancini added: "When we had this chance to do it, Mario wanted it. I said to him, 'If you want to stay, I'm happy. If you want to go, I'll help you to go.' It was his decision." This came only a week after Mancini said: "Mario stays here. We don't have enough players. It is difficult. We are 18 players now. We can't sell any."
That public statement was a bargaining chip in negotiations over Balotelli's departure even if Mancini has insisted the deal was raised only in the last few days of the window. The comment also underlined the pastoral duty that Mancini feels towards a 22 year-old whom the manager has described as being like a son to him.
The transfer does, however, leave City with only three senior strikers as Mancini has insisted that 20-year-old John Guidetti is not ready for the first team, although Yaya Toure's eventual return from the Africa Cup of Nations will add to City's attacking options. "We have three strikers but we have two or three other offensive players," Mancini said. "We have David [Silva], we have Yaya to come back. He can play as a second striker and also because [Javi] Garcia is playing really well at the moment, so we can play with a different shape."
The truth, however, is that Mancini has always said he required four senior strikers and, at the business end of the season, he is short. With constant scrutiny over his future - despite him signing a new contract last summer - and the expectation that this could be his last season at City, the pressure on him is mounting.
Also under debate is his relationship with City's director of football Txiki Begiristain, who has a clear vision not only of the club's future transfer policy but also of the way the team should play. As City prepare to face Liverpool at home today (Sunday) hoping to close the gap to Premier League leaders Manchester United, where Mancini fits into Begiristain's ideas remains unclear, even if the Italian maintained that there was no cause for concern. "I have meetings with Txiki every week about the summer," he said.
Mancini is demanding that City's transfer dealings run smoother than they did in the last close season, when Robin van Persie signed for United rather than their rivals, a decision that continues to aggravate Mancini.
"Last year we didn't work well," Mancini said in another thinly veiled criticism of Begiristain's predecessor Brian Marwood. "It's important we start it now and we've started to talk. Now is the time we can close on good players for the summer."
Should Mancini remain - and City insist there are no plans to replace him - then reshaping the forward line is a priority. The manager has admitted his admiration for Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani. There is also interest in Luis Suarez and Begiristain, during a recent trip to Brazil, held talks over the future of Neymar even though he seems destined for Barcelona.
Mancini admitted he was mystified by City's lack of goals - 45 in the league compared to 69 at this stage last season. "I don't know why," Mancini said. "We're missing Mario's goals. Last season, he scored 15 and this season, he only got one. It's clear that we're missing seven, eight, nine goals and if we had got these, we probably would have four or five points more."
That would have eaten into United's lead. City still have time to do that. "We'll do everything to win this championship," Mancini said. "We have a good memory of what happened last year. We've also started to work better with the defenders, so we have a chance." Now is the time for the remaining strikers to fire.