x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

There is no substitute for Manchester City's Edin Dzeko

The super-sub strikes late to complete comeback for the home side at Etihad Stadium and send Tottenham Hotspur back to London with no points.

Manchester City's Edin Dzeko shoots past Tottenham Hotspur's Michael Dawson to score his side's winner at Etihad Stadium yesterday.
Manchester City's Edin Dzeko shoots past Tottenham Hotspur's Michael Dawson to score his side's winner at Etihad Stadium yesterday.

MANCHESTER // It is sometimes said that it is not how you start that counts, but how you finish.

Edin Dzeko rarely starts but he certainly knows how to finish. It is something Manchester City are very grateful for.

Their resident super-sub performed an increasingly familiar routine, coming off the bench to serve as City's rescuer.

A late winner - Dzeko does not score early goals - extended their magnificent home record and condemned Tottenham Hotspur to defeat when victory long looked more likely.

As they have done in four games already, the Premier League champions had trailed but ended up triumphing.

Dzeko is the constant in the comebacks, the man who has delivered five league goals in his part-time role. Remove them from the equation and City would have nine fewer points. His is a remarkable return for a player on the margins of the side.

"He continues to be on the bench and come on to destroy opposition," Andre Villas-Boas, the Tottenham manager, said.

"A player so strong of character like Dzeko to come on when his team needs him deserves great credit."

All the more so because, as Roberto Mancini accepted, Dzeko is the reluctant replacement. "He is not happy," the City manager said. "A player who is happy on the bench does not exist."

And yet to focus exclusively on Dzeko would be to ignore the other reasons for a victory of seismic proportions.

It was not merely the calibre of the opposition or the quality of the comeback; it was the timing, five days after their Champions League campaign was effectively ended and with suggestions that Mancini was both under pressure and showing the strain.

Yet the Italian excelled when it mattered most. His mid-match changes to 3-5-2 have been controversial in the past, but this helped shape the game, moving the influential David Silva into a central role where he assumed pivotal importance.

His substitutions - Maicon for Matija Nastasic and Dzeko for Carlos Tevez - made a difference. And, once again, his side showed the resolve they needed to respond in adversity.

"I saw the same spirit from the players that I saw last year," Mancini said. "It was a huge win because it was a difficult moment."

City's difficulties were increased in familiar fashion. After conceding twice from corners against Ajax in the Champions League, a free kick was their undoing.

Tom Huddlestone delivered it, Steven Caulker met it with a forceful header and Joe Hart, who perhaps should have pushed it past the post, could only touch it into his own net.

"We need to improve there," Mancini acknowledged.

Another recurring theme involves officials. Peter Rasmussen had denied them a penalty on Tuesday and Michael Oliver followed suit when William Gallas handled. Pablo Zabaleta, too, claimed a spot kick.

Yet with Silva restored to their ranks, City had their creator in chief back. There was invention to accompany their trademark persistence.

The Spaniard set up Carlos Tevez and Zabaleta for shots that Brad Friedel held.

Then he and Yaya Toure combined for the razor-sharp Sergio Aguero to dart past Jan Vertonghen and defeat Friedel. As the game became more open, Gareth Bale could have got a winner at one end while Aguero, Silva and Dzeko all threatened one at the other.

Then the Bosnian delivered it. With expert precision, Silva dinked a pass over the Tottenham defence and Dzeko hooked his shot past Friedel.

"An individual moment of brilliance from Dzeko," Villas-Boas said.

While City are the comeback kings, Tottenham are a team who are losing leads, against first Chelsea and then the champions.

The manager was reluctant to blame tiredness, caused by their Europa League exertions, but whereas Spurs had produced a superb rearguard action to hold on to a lead away against Manchester United, there was no repeat against City.

With Friedel in fine form at one end and Emmanuel Adebayor an awkward presence at the other, the Togolese preferred to top scorer Jermain Defoe on his return to City, Tottenham had presence, power and personality.

But it was not enough, courtesy of an old enemy.

Dzeko scored four times at White Hart Lane last season; now a fifth goal against Tottenham reiterated his case to his manager.

"The goals are my message," he said. And they constitute a very eloquent one, too.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE