Dzeko finally shows his value
It has taken the best part of three months, but January's striking super-rich are united by something other than high price tags and hefty expectations: belatedly, they are all Premier League scorers. Recruited for a combined cost of £159 million in a month of inflated prices and increasing panic, the infamous five have experienced differing fortunes. Darren Bent and Luis Suarez were quick to deliver, then Andy Carroll opened his account for his new employers. Edin Dzeko's wait was concealed by Fernando Torres' failures and by strikes against low-calibre opposition in cup competitions. Now, two days after the Spaniard's drought ended in a swamp at Stamford Bridge, the Bosnian has a league goal to his name as well.
A finish of any kind is invariably described as a repayment of the transfer fee. In this instance, it is apt: Dzeko's £27 million cost may be loose change for Sheikh Mansour, but the riches of the Champions League beckon for Manchester City. A four-point lead is not insurmountable for their pursuers, Tottenham Hotspur, but this City side are less accident prone than many of their predecessors. They may be less entertaining, too, yet that is a trade-off Roberto Mancini is willing to make.
Victory at Ewood Park was just about deserved; more importantly to a pragmatist like Mancini, it was secured. A winner was a tale of two substitutes: Blackburn's January recruit Ruben Rochina lost the ball and Dzeko ensured his error was punished with a precise finish at the far post. In between, David Silva advanced and his cross was diverted to Dzeko by Phil Jones.
The Bosnian's impact has been so limited that this was merely his eighth shot on target in the league; it was indicative that, even with Carlos Tevez injured, his tenth appearance came as a substitute. Signed to provide both a partner and an alternative in attack, he has been neither. "Edin is a fantastic striker. He had some problems because he didn't play more games in the past," Mancini said. "He had some difficulties but this evening he scored an important goal."
It was also a contentious goal. "I don't like to moan about referees," said Steve Kean, before doing just that. "But we felt their goal is offside with [Mario] Balotelli standing in front of [Paul] Robinson." One interpretation was that Balotelli had rarely interfered with play all night, and this was no exception. At least, while loitering in an illegal position, he didn't collect another parking ticket. The striker with more cautions than goals incurred another, rather needlessly, and the praise of his manager, somewhat strangely. "Mario played a fantastic game," added Mancini, bemusing his audience.
Such sentiments should have been voiced about Silva. The Spaniard volleyed against the woodwork in the third minute, set up Yaya Toure for a header Robinson saved well and whipped a shot wide. Gareth Barry, meanwhile, had a header cleared off the line by Michel Salgado in a terrific start by City.
After 20 minutes of almost embarrassing superiority, when Kean's diamond midfield seemed to allow City both to outnumber his side in the centre of the pitch and on the flanks, Blackburn responded forcefully. "I thought we were really good tonight in everything we did," Kean claimed. That was stretching it. Even he admitted: "I don't think we had a fantastic amount of clear-cut chances." The closest was a looping header from Christopher Samba that, from Rovers' perspective, dropped just the wrong side of the post.
Mancini argued: "It was difficult because Blackburn played long ball." It remains their best tactic, but one that they deployed rather more astutely under Sam Allardyce. This was an 11th successive game without a victory and, if their determination made it second only to the stalemate at Emirates Stadium as a performance in that time, that is both compliment and criticism. The gravity of their plight seems to have escaped Kean and, while the Champions League beckons for City, it is ever more likely Blackburn's future lies in the Championship.
MAN OF THE MATCH: David Silva. As is often the case, the Spaniard was City's shining light, providing creativity when few others threatened to and drifting away from opponents with beguiling ease.
BLACKBURN VERDICT: Despite his unfortunate role in City's winner, it was a match that confirmed the class of Phil Jones. One glorious solo run spanned half the length of the pitch and highlighted the shortcomings of team-mates who were unable to do likewise. More pertinently, he defended doggedly. Yet with Junior Hoilett absent, Rovers lacked craft. It said something when a free kick was teed up for Samba; subtlety is not his forte.
While Kean praised the strike pair of Benjani and Jason Roberts for their effort, it is odd that the more gifted Niko Kalinic languishes behind both in the queue; exclusion has turned the Croatian into a crowd favourite. This was the first time in two-and-a-half months that Blackburn picked a forward partnership, but goals remain elusive.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: A first away win in 2011 was overdue but hard-earned. It contained many of the common denominators of any City win, with Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany turning in fine displays, but they should have made their early dominance count. A weekend when Tottenham visit Chelsea and they host West Ham is an opportunity to cement their grasp on fourth place.