x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Edin Dzeko is unhappy providing Manchester City's Plan B

The Bosnian striker is proving to be a goal-scoring super sub for City this season but he dislikes the role, writes Richard Jolly.

Edin Dzeko, who netted the winner against West Brom last weekend, has scored five goals so far this season, equalling the combined haul of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images
Edin Dzeko, who netted the winner against West Brom last weekend, has scored five goals so far this season, equalling the combined haul of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images

He is Manchester City's reluctant rescue act. Edin Dzeko finds himself in that paradoxical position of being too good at a job he does not want, thus cementing his status. He is the ideal 12th man.

From David Fairclough to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, football has had a particular term for the players who are clinical in cameos and specialists at late drama: the super sub.

The Bosnian's brace at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday transformed defeat into victory for City, just as he had emerged from the bench to get the vital equaliser in the club's greatest comeback, the title-deciding final few minutes against Queens Park Rangers in May.

Factor in another leveller, against Southampton, a strike to give City the lead against Real Madrid and a winner at Fulham and the Bosnian has a full hand of goals in games he did not start this season. And with every decisive intervention, the term that Dzeko has come to dislike rears its head again.

Unlike Fairclough, the local lad who helped Liverpool to glory, and Solskjaer, the smiling substitute, Dzeko is more of a grouchy reserve. "I am not a super sub and never will be," he said on Saturday.

But he is. The statistics suggest he should be City's first-choice forward: he averages a goal every 46 minutes in this season's Premier League, while his tally of five equals the combined haul of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez.

Last year, he only started 16 league games but delivered 14 goals. None are as productive with as few opportunities. Yet football teams are not built on facts alone. There is the question of chemistry.

When City surged back into title contention in April, it was with a fast, fluid front four of Tevez, Aguero, David Silva and Samir Nasri. Slower and more static, Dzeko is not a kindred spirit. When he started against Borussia Dortmund, a reward for his winner at Fulham, City lost some of their attacking rhythm.

When Roberto Mancini deploys Yaya Toure behind a sole striker, as he did on Saturday, that lone attacker needs mobility above all else. It is a role that suits Tevez, rather more than Dzeko. His early struggles at the Etihad Stadium, following his January 2011 signing from Wolfsburg, invariably came when he was marooned alone up front.

A rather more prolific return last season came as part of a forward duo. Nevertheless, while every strike had a significance for a club that became champions on goal difference, until his last-day intervention against QPR, there was the sense that few were particularly meaningful.

Dzeko, it seemed, was rarely a scorer of big goals. Subsequent events are a reminder how quickly reputations change. Even in the summer, there was the feeling that City would have been willing to sell Dzeko to free up funds and a place in their attack for Robin van Persie.

Instead, he remained and was rebranded. Dzeko's price tag - £27 million (Dh159.3m) - and his pedigree as a former Bundesliga winner renders him a deluxe substitute. They are reasons Mancini rarely gets much credit for his contributions when City salvage something from unpromising positions.

But the manager, still more than the striker, is the constant in the comebacks, altering tactics and switching personnel in the search for a breakthrough.

Crisis management involves knowing who to turn to in a critical situation and Dzeko's attributes become particularly useful as games change. When opponents back off into their penalty area, the pace of Aguero can be less of an issue. When they defend in still greater numbers in a comparatively small area of the pitch, it is harder for Silva to thread eye-of-the-needle passes.

It is then that Dzeko's aerial ability becomes more of an asset. He is City's Plan B, the man who gives them an extra dimension. He gives a technical team a physical element in attack.

It does not fully explain the contradiction that he can seem sluggish when starting but keeps on making an immediate effect when introduced - it took him 87 seconds to score after his introduction at West Brom, a mere 68 at Fulham - but it does suggest he should stay on the bench until the game's latter stages. Because Dzeko has carved out a niche for himself. Whereas some players are the first name on the team sheet, his is the first written among the substitutes.

If Swansea City against Wigan Athletic was never going to garner much attention, the losers were always likely to be still more obscured.

Yet in defeat at the Liberty Stadium, something remarkable happened: Emmerson Boyce scored with an improvised back-heeled flick.

There can have been few players who have been Premier League regulars for as long as the 33 year old while remaining low profile but it was partly attributable to Boyce's habit of being steady rather than spectacular.

Yet going back to last season, Wigan's right wing-back has four goals in 12 games, three of them superb. Because it is Wigan and he is Boyce, they have occurred outside the limelight but one of football's solid citizens has acquired a flair for the dramatic.

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