By Wayne Veysey at Hawthorns
At a club of such wealth and ambition, the jersey of a Manchester City striker must be a curious one to wear.
Goals are no guarantee of playing minutes and you are always an off-key 45 minutes away from a long spell on the sub’s bench.
All the while, your employers are casting covetous glances at A-list replacements, reflected in ever-present speculation about a possible change of club.
By common consent, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli began a tricky afternoon at the Hawthorns at third and fourth in a City striker pecking order led by the brilliant Argentine, Sergio Aguero.
By coming off the substitute’s bench and rescuing victory from the jaws of defeat for a team that had been playing with 10 men since the 23rd minute, Dzeko did not just win three points for his side with two late goals. He may have turned around a City career that has flickered since his £27 million move from Wolfsburg in January 2011 without quite catching fire.
In isolation, his statistics this season are persuasive. In 280 minutes of Premier League action, the Bosnian has now scored five goals, averaging a highly credible strike every 56 minutes. Add a noteworthy Champions League opener against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and he has scored six times in total.
It is even more impressive if you examine the circumstances of Dzeko’s goals.
His first goal of the season was a 72nd minute equaliser in the 3-2 win over Southampton, giving City the momentum to go on and win. Against QPR, he put City 2-1 up with a 62nd minute header in a game they went on to win 3-1. Dzeko then scored the winner in the 2-1 win over Fulham. By plundering two goals in just 11 minutes on the pitch at West Brom, the 26-year-old turned the match on its head.
It is quite a trend. Of Dzeko’s six goals, five have turned the result in his team’s favour. It might have been a full house but for Cristiano Ronaldo’s late brilliance at the Bernabeu. Astonishingly, five have come after being summoned from the substitute’s bench.
Yet Dzeko is surely deserving of more than super-sub status. It is not surprising that he has scored only one goal after starting (against QPR), given that he has begun only three of City’s 11 matches this season.
For good measure, he has scored another five for Bosnia in World Cup qualifiers, to give him 11 in total for club and country.
It is some run, which was reflected in the post-match comments of David Platt. "Edin Dzeko has been in superb form,” said Roberto Mancini’s right-hand man. “He is a top player and should be disappointed not to be in the team."
Quite. Dzeko has proved that he deserves the trust of his manager and a more regular run in one of the hardest starting XIs in Europe for a forward to get into.
By contrast, Balotelli continues to frustrate the City coaching staff with his indifference, meltdowns and occasional brilliance.
It was not that he was awful against West Brom. He was not. But neither was there evidence that he is learning what is required to be a regular Premier League match-winner.
Spending the opening half on the left flank, Balotelli looked lively early on, but got booked in the 19th minute for lashing out with his arm after a West Brom challenge. From then, he skated on a disciplinary tight-rope, growing in frustration by the minute.
When the whistle blew to bring a feisty opening period to a close, and with the crowd increasingly getting on his back, Balotelli marched up to referee Mark Clattenburg and his assistants to complain about their overzealousness, before being sensibly escorted away by Joe Hart.
Mancini chose not to haul him off at the break. “Mario was causing them problems,” Platt explained. “When he came in at half-time he was cool. We were confident there would be no loss of head."
Indeed, there was not. In a re-jigged 4-3-1-1 formation, Balotelli was deployed in the second half in the spearhead role in which he is far more comfortable, with Carlos Tevez operating in a deeper position.
The Italian had some joy, getting behind the hosts’ defence on two occasions. But, after mis-hitting an excellent volley opportunity from the edge of the six-yard box, Balotelli was inevitably hooked shortly after the hour mark, with Aguero taking his place.
After lighting up Euro 2012 with his semi-final performance for Italy, he has reverted back to type for his club.
Ten matches have yielded just two goals, the second being the ultra-cool last-minute penalty to rescue a point against Borussia Dortmund.
For a player of such considerable gifts, this is an underwhelming output. Even more so, when placed in the context of Dzeko’s match-turning displays.
It is time for Balotelli to look up to his 6ft 4in striking rival and take a leaf out of his book.
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