The Manchester City forward trio of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko have not fired in the way they did last season. Meanwhile, Fernando Torres of Chelsea has outscored them, writes Richard Jolly.
FA Cup: Manchester City forwards missing spark from last year while Torres flourishes for Chelsea
He is the butt of every joke, supposedly the biggest waste of money in the history of English football and a player whose failings have helped cost three managers their job.
That, at least, is one interpretation of the much-maligned Fernando Torres. And yet as Chelsea's record buy gears up to face the club that, four years ago, hoped to sign him, it is with a salient statistic he can use in his defence.
The Spaniard has scored more goals this season than any Manchester City striker. Torres has 20 to his name, including one against City in August's Community Shield. It puts him comfortably ahead of Carlos Tevez (16), Sergio Aguero (14) and Edin Dzeko (13).
Mario Balotelli, whose half-season at Etihad Stadium produced a mere three goals, is an ignominious last in this contest of multi-million pound forwards.
Admittedly, because of Chelsea's packed programme, Torres has played more games than City, let alone any of their forwards, but it gives credence to Roberto Mancini's complaints about his strikers.
Besides bemoaning the one that got away, his summer transfer target Robin van Persie, and hinting at his hopes to sign Napoli's Edinson Cavani or Liverpool's Luis Suarez, the City manager has been consistent in his belief that his side should have scored 15 or 20 more league goals.
And while others, such as David Silva and Samir Nasri, have also proved less productive, the brunt of the criticism has lain with the specialist scorers.
Aguero's outstanding winner at Manchester United on Monday, his high-speed diagonal dart into the box and shot, lifted with unerring accuracy into the roof of the net, prompted reminders of last season. Then he was razor-sharp from start to last, from his two-goal debut against Swansea City to his title-winning goal on the final day.
The current campaign, however, has been a stop-start affair from the off. A knee injury sustained in the opening win against Southampton led to the first of two spells on the sidelines. The Argentine was not deemed fully fit on Monday and started on the bench.
"Personally, it's rewarding to be able to score such an important goal, especially after spending a long time without playing because of an injury," Aguero said.
There is no guarantee that the South American, who has not begun a game since February, will start today.
"His knee probably is not 100 per cent," Mancini added.
Tevez, in contrast, has been available throughout, unlike last year when there was a six-month gap between appearances that resulted from his refusal to warm up against Bayern Munich. His effort has been consistent and has brought him regular praise from Mancini but the former captain has dealt in boom and bust in front of goal.
Between a prolific August and a recent run of seven in as many games, he only struck five times in 27 games. Even then, two of those were penalties.
"When Carlos plays he is a strong, he fights and puts all of his strength for the team," Mancini argued.
Dzeko, meanwhile, is the great enigma, a striker who be at his best coming on from the bench but often seems sluggish when involved from the first whistle.
"I hope he can play well also when he starts a game," Mancini said during an autumn run of prolific cameos. It has been recurring theme of his time in Manchester. The Bosnian dislikes the tag of the super-sub without demonstrating often enough why he should begin games. Chances are he will be held in reserve at Wembley Stadium.
If Silva's hamstring problem rules him out, Aguero could be promoted to the starting XI but, after City prospered against United with five men in midfield and a solitary striker, Mancini might just decide the answer to his striking problems is simple and stick with a policy of picking just one of them.
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