Dzeko on target to vindicate Mancini
Manchester City 2
Published 12/11/2012 | 05:00
Roberto Mancini played his cards, collected his winnings and then jumped on the first plane back to Italy having blown the storm clouds away from Manchester City for another week at least.
Tinkerman one week, master tactician the next, yet as he boarded the flight home, the City manager would have had the satisfaction of proving to his critics that he can influence games in a positive sense after a tactical switch and the introduction of substitute Edin Dzeko turned defeat into victory against Tottenham.
Mancini has played for high stakes this season and, when the gambles haven't worked, the public disquiet of his own players has spoken loudest.
Yet having been castigated for tinkering with City's defensive tactics during last month's Champions League defeat against Ajax, Mancini deserves the credit for masterminding this victory.
Until the 57th-minute introduction of full-back Maicon, which enabled City to revert to the three-man defence which proved so controversial in Amsterdam, the champions looked destined to suffer their first home defeat in the league in 34 games -- a run stretching back to a 2-1 loss against Everton in December 2010.
Then came Mancini's 73rd-minute decision to replace the jaded Carlos Tevez with Dzeko -- selected on the bench ahead of omitted Inter Milan target Mario Balotelli -- who went on to win the game with an 88th-minute volley.
Dzeko, who had admitted prior to the game his disdain for his 'supersub' tag, only served to enhance that reputation with his winner, which was the sixth goal he has scored off the bench this season.
The Bosnian has won no fewer than nine points for City with the goals he has contributed as a substitute since August, so he may have to learn to live with his unwanted billing for a good while yet.
"He is not happy," Mancini said when asked about Dzeko following the victory. "A player who is happy on the bench does not exist.
"We had three important strikers today. Last year we won the championship because of goals from our strikers; today we missed some goals from them, but hopefully they can score again soon."
Dzeko, whose relationship with Mancini is somewhere between lukewarm and cool, claimed he is determined that his actions speak louder than words when it comes to earning a starting spot.
"The goals are my message," Dzeko said. "That's the only thing, but I hope next time we start winning 1-0 before we win the game because this is much harder to play."
Having eschewed the post-match press conference in order to make his flight, Mancini denied himself the opportunity to say 'I told you so' in relation to his tactical switch and the introduction of Dzeko, but Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas admitted that his opposite number had played the winning card.
"The key moment came at 1-1," Villas-Boas said. "City made some changes, went to three at the back and began to go for all-out attack.
"We started making some space, but the (winning) goal came from our attack and Dzeko made the difference with his ambition to show that he deserves to be in the team.
"He has a strong character and he showed a moment of brilliance in the final minutes to win the game for City. It is comparable to Chicharito (for Manchester United at Aston Villa on Saturday)."
As turbulent as it has been for Mancini and City this season, the club remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League, yet that record was tested to the full by Spurs, who were intent on claiming a rare Manchester double having already won at Old Trafford this term.
And when they punished City for their latest defensive lapse on 21 minutes, Villas-Boas' players gave themselves the perfect platform.
With Aleksandar Kolarov losing Steven Caulker as Tom Huddlestone's free-kick entered the penalty area, the Spurs defender's header somehow crept past goalkeeper Joe Hart, who initially blocked the effort before allowing the ball to squirm into the back of the net.
City responded well, however, and they should have been given the opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot on 24 minutes when William Gallas' left arm prevented Sergio Aguero from taking a strike on goal.
Despite the ball striking the Frenchman's arm twice, unsighted referee Michael Oliver was unable to award the penalty and City's appeals were dismissed. City continued to pour forward and they were denied another penalty 10 minutes later when Pablo Zabaleta was barged to the ground by Huddlestone.
Brad Friedel's goal was certainly leading a charmed life. Kolarov sent a 20-yard effort wide, Aguero sliced a near-post effort over the bar and Tevez, having been teed up by David Silva, scuffed a shot into the Spurs goalkeeper's hands.
With Spurs providing almost nothing as an attacking force, however, Mancini made the tactical change in order to heap more pressure on the visitors' back four.
Chances began to emerge and, eventually, Tottenham's resistance was broken when Aguero, released by Yaya Toure, cut inside full-back Jan Vertonghen and guided a left-foot shot into the far corner to haul City level.
It was the least City deserved and some kind of justice following the failure to claim the two penalties, and they sensed a winner and turned up the pressure.
Maicon fired narrowly across the face of goal, Silva shot wide and Friedel saved brilliantly from Aguero after the Argentinian had been teed up by Dzeko's back-heeled pass.
But with two minutes left to play, Dzeko assumed his supersub persona once again by ghosting onto Silva's lofted pass before beating Friedel with a first-time volley with his left foot.
For the fourth time in the league this season, City had fought back from a losing position to win and guess who has hand in all of them? Supersub Edin Dzeko. (© Daily Telegraph, London)