The relief inside the Etihad was clear to see when Bernardo Silva curled home a late opener for Manchester City against Aston Villa on Wednesday.

City had finally broken down a stubborn Villa defence, who had kept out 25 previous shots with brave blocks, good saves or some slices of good fortune. Ilkay Gundogan made the game safe as the clock ticked over 90 minutes, and while City will spin the win as a performance full of character and guts, there will have been a huge element of relief when the team dried off in the dressing room.

Had City not found the breakthrough, they would have been scratching their heads at why they didn't score having created so many chances, but in reality this is not a new problem.

Pep Guardiola may have his side on a run of nine straight wins, and 16 games unbeaten in all competitions, but it's fair to say there is still plenty of room for improvement in the attacking third if that run is to continue.

With Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero out for large portions of the unbeaten run, it might be a bit unfair to criticise a team without a natural striker for not scoring enough. However, these are accomplished attacking footballers, who have created a significant number of chances in recent games.

Take the last six wins since the new year - against Chelsea, Manchester United, Birmingham, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa. On the face of it, six wins, 15 goals, one goal against and 12 points is not a bad return at all.

For all the following questions about the attack, an average of 2.5 goals per game and the relative comfort in most of those games, deserves credit. Especially without a striker for four of those six games.

A closer look, though, shows that City should really be doing better in the scoring column, with or without a striker. In those last six games, City have taken 103 shots, with a coversion rate of just 14 per cent. That's one goal for every six shots.

Against Brighton and Villa especially - and Palace to a degree - large portions of the game were close and characterised by a lot of shots and chances, but somehow, few goals.

It's interesting that City have put in 108 crosses in the last six games - 68 of which have come in the last three games. Yet of those 108 crosses, only 24 have been accurate (22 per cent), and only five goals have been scored from them - that's four per cent of crosses resulting in a goal.

It helps that City have been brilliant at the back, without falling behind in a game in the current 16 game unbeaten run. Only one of the three goals conceded in that run has affected the result - the 1-1 draw with West Brom.

But that West Brom draw is a perfect example of what can happen if the back line switches off for a second. If City want to win the league this season, they will have to back up their current run with more big results against direct competitors, who won't be as forgiving as recent opponents when it comes to allowing plenty of missed chances from City before scoring.

Former City captain Andy Morrison tweeted about the issue during Wednesday's win over Villa, observing: "With no 9 we create overloads and dominate possession yet every time we’re wide and cross there’s no one in the POMO [position of maximum opportunity] position.

"Aguero tonight scores 2-3-4. While City are defending so well its ok, to win the league the goals to opportunities has to improve."

With Aguero now missing for another ten days after testing positive for Covid, Guardiola will hope for a response from Gabriel Jesus, and Aguero's natural game lends itself to converting the chances City create. Regardless, City are starting to look like a side who are struggling to play with or without a striker. It's only the sheer number of opportunities created from midfield that is keeping the run going, and it's not a sustainable tactic.

Guardiola will know it, and perhaps his insistence that performances are more important than league position is a nod to that.

With Cheltenham, West Brom, Sheffield United and Burnley up next, City will be looking for a better economy when it comes to crosses and chances created before a tricky trio of fixtures against Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal. After fixing the defence, now Guardiola has an attacking issue to fix that he can't keep getting away with.