When Manchester City struggle these days, the looming spectre of those huddled on the bench tend to command more attention than the players in action.
As City laboured against Everton on Saturday – requiring a contentious penalty to eventually escape with a point – all eyes were on Roberto Mancini.
With Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli wrapped in tracksuits behind him, what would he do to change things?
Very little as it happened.
Cries of derision echoed round the Etihad as Mancini refused to gamble with an extra forward – replacing the industrious Carlos Tevez with Aguero before giving Balotelli a token ten-minute run-out.
Defeatism or pragmatism?
Mancini argued the latter, saying Everton’s ominous threat from set-pieces – epitomised by the towering Marouane Fellaini – meant he could not risk losing a defensive body.
“If you don’t pay attention you can lose three points and it is sometimes better to take one,” was the Italian’s response – much to the eternal chagrin of frustrated City fans.
The two points David Moyes’ men deprived City of on Saturday doubled the number Mancini lost at Stamford Bridge a week before.
There too – against a Chelsea unit undermined at every turn by their fans barracking new boss Rafael Benitez – City refused to take risks.
An admittedly hypothetical question is whether Sir Alex Ferguson would be content with a goalless draw from an environment so hostile to opposition players?
You can imagine the indignation of his response, although United fans may appreciate extra emphasis on defensive solidity after they conceded three times at Reading at the weekend.
They were also breached twice at Chelsea a few weeks ago – where City claimed a prized clean sheet – but their adventure got them three goals, three points and three times as great a reward as their rivals gained in West London.
Mancini must now respond and, if he remains unwilling to gamble one point for the sake of earning three with his current attacking arsenal, perhaps January changes are needed.
For some time now – in the light blue of City – Balotelli has cut a sullen figure, languishing on the bench unless providing cameo appearances usually more of a hindrance than a help.
The enigmatic Italian – whose sporadic unpredictability infuriates on the pitch while charming off it – snatched a rare goal at Wigan last Wednesday to spark a City win.
But Mancini must wonder why the powerhouse that so terrified the German defence at Euro 2012 seemingly becomes a spoilt child when donning City colours.
The tabloid press will mourn his departure, but the time is ripe for Balotelli’s tortuous and amusing time in Manchester to end.
To reduce infighting and competition for places – paving the way for fresh additions – Edin Dzeko, who City fans clearly thought should have been withdrawn instead of Tevez on Saturday, could even be allowed out on loan, with the Bosnian unhappy at his recent labelling as a super-sub.
And Mancini need look no further than Madrid – to the club currently second in La Liga – for a replacement that could restore his confidence in his attack and redefine City’s season.
No, not a certain Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu.
Across the city, Atletico have produced a sensational start to the season, to the extent Jose Mourinho and Real must – for now – settle for third spot.
Key to this intrusion into Real and Barcelona’s cosy monotony over Spanish football has been striker Falcao.
Reports suggest signing him would cost £100m in wages and fees – but why should this matter to City?
The media seem to think Roman Abramovich’s chaotic Chelsea are favourites to land the Colombian’s signature, which should set alarm bells ringing at the Etihad.
Someone with the pace, power and scoring prowess of Falcao – he has 14 goals in 14 games this term – should not settle for a club in such turmoil as Chelsea.
The English Champions – still unbeaten this season with a manager that, for now, the fans seem to tolerate – seem a far better fit for the rising star.
Falcao would not necessarily trump Balotelli for quality, but he would provide it more consistently and, crucially, seems to lack the moody attitude and inflated ego that so undermine the Italian.
He would strengthen Mancini’s squad and justify the hefty investment – minus what is recouped for Balotelli – required to secure his services.
It is even possible he might convince Mancini that home draws with the likes of Everton are not good enough for City’s expensive array of talent.
Such an attitude change would make them title favourites once more.
Please note: Opinions expressed above are those of the journalist and do not necessarily represent the views of Mancunian Matters.