Most argue Manchester United’s ballsy, and almost successful, efforts to pinch the Premier League crown from boisterous neighbours City was due to their characteristic end-of-season push.
Few, however, remember that the hard work began in the festive period, and by New Year’s Day the teams were level on points.
Roberto Mancini will have felt that his side has been hard done by over the notoriously crammed Christmas calendar on these shores, but compared to his previous two seasons in English football, they haven’t fared any worse.
Last season, City dropped seven points, if we include their seemingly recurring Stadium of Light nightmare on New Year’s Day.
Soon after, Mancini’s men crashed out of both domestic cups – giving them nothing to concentrate on except the league title – which they only just clung onto on the unforgettable season finale.
The season previous, City suffered a home loss to Everton, before dropping further points at Arsenal.
This year, once more, they are out of Europe, but instead of having the lead to hold onto they have to find seven points to draw level, and this time United’s goal difference is better.
Mancini’s striking woes are no secret. Before the Norwich game, the four frontmen had netted just three goals between them in City’s last eight ties.
Compare that to a certain Robin van Persie, who notched another brace in their trip to Wigan and took his season tally to a healthy 19.
It doesn’t take a genius to outline that difference, but why have City’s strikers been firing blanks when they scored 54 goals in the Premier League last season?
Mancini is set in his ways.
There is an argument to suggest that if it aint broke, don’t fix it, but his tactics have been one-dimensional all season, leading to seven points dropped at home.
In March, City were celebrating their Premier League record 20 straight home wins, yet this time round the difference in home points is the amount by which they trail United.
People talk of Edin Dzeko as a super-sub, but after seeing him fly out of the blocks on Saturday and notching another in yesterday’s 3-0 triumph over Stoke City those same people may be gritting their teeth and asking why he hasn’t been starting more often throughout the campaign.
Instead of a Wenger-esque attitude of sticking with footballing philosophy until it’s too late, perhaps the Italian should have used his target man Dzeko to suit the occasion, rather than trying his best to implement two undoubtedly talented, yet worryingly similar, Argentinians.
If Mancini has taken a gamble this season, it’s been an outlandish all-or-nothing throw of the dice with Mario Balotelli, yet his performances have rewarded Mancini with nothing.
Highly touted to leave the Etihad this month, Balotelli’s forays have been largely unfruitful – no more so than in the derby defeat to United – maybe Mancini’s father-figure role has become impotent.
Plan B, it seems, was always Dzeko.
He rewarded the faith finally shown in him on Saturday with an early brace at Norwich, which helped City fly out of the blocks in a game that would never have been so close were it not for Samir Nasri’s childish temper earning him a hot-soaky early bath.
Selection has been unfair on the Bosnian, who, despite limited opportunities, has not thrown his toys out of Sheikh Mansour’s lavish pram like Messrs Tevez and Balotelli have been known to in the past.
He has started a mere six Premier League games this term, and bagged eight goals. Five of those have come from the bench, but one in every two starts isn’t a bad return.
Dzeko also boasts the best goals to shots ratio and the best average goals to minutes on the pitch for the Citizens this year.
A no-nonsense striker is the mainstay of any successful Premier league winners. See Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Alan Shearer, and Dzeko’s own dominating performances last year as examples.
Not only does the Bosnian’s presence on the park improve his own scoring records. When he plays, especially alongside either of the Argentinians, he brings the best out of his teammates.
Midfield maestros David Silva and Nasri will also prosper from his prolonged inclusion, Dzeko is no slouch in terms of link-up play, and can hold the ball up, allowing the midfield to join the attacks.
A former midfielder before he moved to Wolfsburg, he is technically astute and, though he may not create an individual piece of magic from nothing, is highly effective for the team.
Every talisman needs their aide. Shearer had Teddy Sheringham, Thierry Henry had Dennis Bergkamp, Rooney has played second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo and now Robin van Persie. And Messi, well he has himself, and a couple of world-class teammates over the years.
With three strikers vying to be number one at City, Mancini should take a look at his number two, and Dzeko is the perfect foil to help the more naturally gifted players around him, and – more importantly – the team, flourish to their true potential.
With questions hanging around Mancini’s attacking preferences, it is, however, still in doubt whether the big Bosnian will cement his place in the starting line-up – especially with Aguero’s two-week absence.
Picture courtesy of Yahoo UK, with thanks