City's striker stocks in strife with Balotelli exit

ROB HARRIS
Last updated 09:54 02/02/2013
Mario Balotelli
Getty Images
HEADING HOME: Controversial Mario Balotelli is heading back to his childhood team, AC Milan, leaving Manchester City with just three strikers.

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Roberto Mancini will be hoping the decision to offload Mario Balotelli doesn't backfire with Manchester City's striking options now curtailed.

Selling the troublesome Balotelli to AC Milan leaves Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko as the only experienced strikers in the squad after no replacement was signed before the January transfer window closed.

"Now we have three strikers. We have only Premier League and FA Cup, I think that could be enough," Mancini said Friday. "It was difficult to take another good player."

But their failure to find the net in a 0-0 draw at Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday allowed Manchester United to move seven points ahead of City in the Premier League title race.

By the time City hosts Liverpool on Sunday the champions could be 10 points behind if Manchester United wins at Fulham on Saturday.

Against Liverpool, City will be without captain Vincent Kompany, with the defender facing another three weeks out after limping out of last weekend's FA Cup win over Stoke with a calf strain.

City has gone 555 minutes in all competitions without conceding a goal, despite center back Kolo Toure also being away at the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast.

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez will be hoping to finally breach Joe Hart's goal after scoring nine times in the last nine games.

Despite scoring after only five minutes at Arsenal on Wednesday, Liverpool threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 and stay seventh in the standings, seven points behind the four Champions League places.

"Sometimes we play well, as good as being in the top four of the Premier League," Suarez told the Daily Mail. "Then other times we don't play anywhere near as well ... we have to become stronger in our minds."

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is also calling for his team's mindset to change - despite leading the way.

The 19-time champions were fortunate to beat Southampton 2-1 on Wednesday after allowing the opposition to take control at Old Trafford in the second half.

"I don't expect my players to be complacent, but Wednesday is obviously a great reminder," Ferguson said.

Ferguson could also remind his team about how Chelsea imploded at Reading on Wednesday to draw 2-2 and fall 14 points behind United in third place. Chelsea remains four points ahead of Tottenham, which is at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

Chelsea on Saturday faces a Newcastle side, which halted a six-match winless run on Tuesday after new French trio Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko and Mathieu Debuchy helped to secure a 2-1 win at Aston Villa.

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Newcastle, though, is just four points above the relegation zone.

"There is one massive target which we mustn't lose focus on, and that's to stay in the Premier League," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said.

The two teams directly below Newcastle and just above the drop zone, Wigan and Southampton, meet on Saturday when the bottom three are also in action.

Aston Villa is at Everton, Reading hosts Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers will be hoping its new signings make an immediate impact when the last-place team plays Norwich.

Defender Christopher Samba was the headline signing Thursday from Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala for a reported club-record fee of 12 million pounds as QPR became the biggest spending Premier League club in the January transfer window.

The west London club accounted for 22 million pounds of the 120 million pounds spent, according to accountancy firm Deloitte.

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce was among those happy the transfer window is now closed, having avoided a last-minute scramble on Thursday's deadline day by signing Joe Cole, Marouane Chamakh and Emanuel Pogatetz in advance.

"We are probably all waking up this morning and, whether we have done enough or we haven't, we will all be pleased that we can focus purely on the games," Allardyce said ahead of Saturday's match against Swansea.

"You're always disappointed in this window," he added. "I've never been delighted at the end of a window, in January anyway."

- AP

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