Pellegrini unraveling enigmatic Dzeko
When Edin Dzeko scored the equaliser for manager Roberto Mancini's Manchester City side in their famous back-from-the-dead title win in 2012, few would have expected what happened next. I'm not talking about Sergio Aguero's league-winning strike -- many people genuinely felt with the score at 2-1 that a City leveler could give them the impetus to get another. No, I'm talking about the career of the Bosnian forward.
The No. 10 has never been the model of consistency. When he arrived at the Etihad in January 2011, it took him several months to grab his first Premier League goal. It wasn't so much a tap-in, but it wasn't the hardest finish he's ever had when he connected on a loose ball in Blackburn's box. He then went five more games without netting until he scored at Bolton on the final day.
- Jolly: Dzeko in City talks
At the start of the 2011-12 season, Dzeko started to hit form as City fans witnessed seven goals in the opening four games, including an impressive four-goal effort at Tottenham: a perfect hat trick followed up by the stunning fourth as he side-footed home from range on his weaker foot. The supporters were seeing the real deal.
Seven goals in four games became seven in 10, as he went on a dry spell of six matches. And here two things became clear: Dzeko scores goals in patches and can have a run of atrocious form, while he's also something of a confidence player. When things aren't going his way, boy, are the fans aware of it.
He's a tricky one to predict. At times, he displays awesome shows of touch and balance where he can skip around challenges, bring a long ball under control and smash it toward the top corner. At other times, he looks like a computer game character afflicted by glitches, sending the ball backward rather than toward goal from 3 yards out. Think of that miss against Stoke last season.
So when he equalised, Kevin Horlock-style, against QPR in 2012, I did begin to wonder if he'd just bought himself another season with the Blues by scoring that crucial goal. It's harsh, after all, to sell one of the players directly responsible for dragging the club out of the hole they'd excavated and positioned themselves in throughout the second half.
Following another hit-and-miss season, when he would dip in and out of form and when Mancini's squad became fractured and clearly filled with unrest, it appeared the door was the only likely outcome for Dzeko. His goal in the 1-0 win over West Brom in May summed it up: He put his finger to his lips and shushed the home fans, which was a nail in his ever-sturdier-looking coffin.
The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini as manager came at exactly the right time -- everybody in the squad was given a clean slate to work from and that meant the Bosnian's baggage was gone. There were still a few fans dubious as to whether he'd had his chance and blown it, but on the whole there was a willingness to give him one last opportunity.
With supportive words from his manager and with a more offensive style of play adopted by Pellegrini, Dzeko flourished. Who would have expected that a season after he was enjoying drinks in the Last Chance Saloon, the Bosnian would be going into the 2014-15 campaign looking like one of the first names on the team sheet? He's certainly a good bet for your Fantasy League teams.
Under Mancini, Dzeko would score in four or five games on the bounce, but then go on barren spells of up to three months (before his equaliser against QPR in May 2012, he'd not scored since February). Under Pellegrini, the striker's longest blip was just over a month.
He's still frustrating to watch, as his touch remains unpredictable and his shooting is often erratic, but there can be no denying the influence of the Chilean manager. Pellegrini has been to get a more consistent Dzeko in front of goal. It might be a fact of his biology that he's incapable of scoring the easy chance. It might be a prerequisite that he has to balloon three over the bar from inside the 6-yard box before he scores, but Pellegrini has Dzeko scoring.
With Sergio Aguero being undeniably injury-prone, Dzeko is quickly becoming a reliable forward to bag goals. He might not work as hard as the Argentine, but Dzeko's scoring record is pretty damn good.
An extended layoff for Alvaro Negredo -- whose form in the latter half of 2013-14 was far worse than Dzeko's has ever been at City -- and a non-season for Stevan Jovetic because of a number of setbacks means that the Bosnian will be at the forefront of the manager's plans.
It's not by default, either -- five goals in his last four City games means he's right there on merit, and that starting berth is his to lose.