Joe Kinnear might have endured the worst transfer window in the Premier League, but Manchester City’s shortcomings cannot be overlooked and could cost them dearly.
As Chelsea signed Nemanja Matic from Benfica for £21million, Manchester United brought in Juan Mata for £37million and Arsenal procured an injured Swede on loan, City watched and waited, being calm as they missed out on Porto duo Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala, something that could cost them in the run-in.
After a loss and a draw in the space of six days, including no goals for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, City have suffered a couple of blows in the hunt for the title. Missing for the defeat against Chelsea and goalless outing at Norwich were Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero, something that has not gone unnoticed.
Following the point at Carrow Road, the visibly tired Chilean admitted that neither Edin Dzeko nor Alvaro Negredo were fully fit, a key reason for them failing to find the net in their last two games. On top of this, City’s other available striker Stevan Jovetic isn’t match-fit at the moment having missed the majority of the season through injury.
In addition to these recent absentees, Samir Nasri – a man who was pivotal until Christmas - is unlikely to feature until March after being cruelly taken down by Massadio Haidara at Newcastle.
Young forward John Guidetti was loaned to Stoke in the middle of January, prior to Negredo and Aguero suffering their respective injuries, which was unfortunate for Pellegrini, leaving him chronically short of options.
His main target in the winter window was Fernando, who would have added much-needed depth the Blues' midfield, but, unlike in years gone by, City refused to be held to ransom by the selling club, Porto, so passed up on the offer to secure his signature, in the knowledge his contract was to expire in the summer – he has since penned a new deal in Portugal.
The club are far more methodical in their scouting, as director of football Txiki Begiristain is in charge of all things transfer-related, achieving great success with the captures of Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Fernandinho in the summer. And, like many big clubs, they seem unwilling to operate with much gusto in January, in an attempt to avoid being burnt with last-minute, expensive transfers.
It’s commendable that City are trying to function within their means, but there are issues in their squad that have not been addressed; Pellegrini has little faith in the ability of Javi Garcia, who looks out of his depth against top opposition; Jack Rodwell is rarely fit enough to make it onto the pitch; with Martin Demichelis perversely preferred others on the books at the Etihad to operate alongside Yaya Toure against Chelsea, when he's obviously sub-par.
Even in defence where Pellegrini has more options, including Premier League winner Joleon Lescott and the emerging Matija Nastasic, Begiristain was looking to bring in an upgrade, in the form of Mangala, but once again refused to pay up went it came to the overpriced crunch.
The fact City are still in with a chance of winning four trophies proves there is little wrong with their side, who have scored 116 goals in all competitions, but the very best should acknowledge their weaknesses at the earliest opportunity and eradicate them.
A lack of clinical behaviour in the hierarchy at the Etihad might be their undoing this year, as not bolstering their squad when they were at the height of their powers, could be significant in May.
Many of City’s stars worked without rest in the first half of the campaign, as Fernandinho didn’t miss a single Premier League game, already appearing 30 times for the club since August, Aguero was an ever-present until he injured himself in December, missing a month of the campaign and Yaya Toure now looks about as active as a equal opportunities officer in Sochi.
At Norwich young Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes was on the bench. The Portuguese teenager has impressed in his few appearances in cup competitions for the Blues, but Pellegrini didn’t see him as the right man to change a game against relegation contenders, leaving his final attacking option on the bench, despite City’s inability to create chances. The inexperienced playmaker has the ability to open up defences and outwit the best defenders, but Pellegrini doesn’t want to burden someone with less than ten professional games under his belt.
But if there are going to be a number of players on the substitutes bench who the Chilean is unwilling to use, then it would suggest that more should have been done in January to acquire those who could make a difference in City’s toughest ever season.
City would have to play another 27 games this season if they are to achieve the almost fantastical goal of winning four major pieces of silverware. Admittedly, to reach that stage they would have to get revenge on Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday, beat European juggernaut Barcelona over two legs in the Champions League and somehow get the better of Sunderland at Wembley in the League Cup final.
There’s no doubt that City have the players who capable of leading them to unimaginable glory come May, but they could have made it easier for themselves with a touch more planning prior to the close of the transfer window, especially considering the obvious concerns on the mind on Pellegrini.