The mathematical equation of four into two isn’t one that would appear to be particularly manageable to most people, but you try telling that to Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. The Italian boasts an attacking quartet that most other Premier League bosses could only dream of. And as we saw against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, the depth of talent within that quartet is a somewhat invaluable asset.
Boasting any one of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli would have most supporters salivating but to have all four in the squad at the same time? It almost seems greedy.
But until now, Mancini seems to have been able to pull off the task of keeping all four of his gifted frontmen, relatively happy. Of course, there have been injuries, suspensions and several months worth of gardening leave in between, to keep his strikers fully occupied. Yet this season could be a somewhat different scenario for the Italian to get his teeth into.
As Manchester City fought back from a goal down with a one man disadvantage to beat Steve Clarke’s side 2-1 at the Hawthorns on Saturday, they exhibited all the gleaming attributes that saw them become Premier League champions in such dramatic style last term. But beyond their startling mental resilience to overcome the odds, it was their wealth of attacking options that Mancini could call upon to change the game, that were just as unique.
All great teams have the sort of proven strength in depth that allows them to turn a game on it’s head from the bench and although Dzeko didn’t quite turn in a showstopping performance, it speaks volumes that Mancini had a striker of the quality of the Bosnian to bring off the bench. He offers City a different dynamic to all three of his striking rivals and his superb headed goal for the equalizer was executed with an aerial ability that is perhaps unrivalled in the ranks up at the Etihad.
Yet after the game, Dzeko wasn’t particularly all smiles, despite his match winning brace.
“I’m not a super sub and never will be,” he said, speaking after the game.
“I scored a lot of goals before I arrived at Manchester City and not as a sub. I’ve scored goals from the beginning. Sometimes it will be from the bench, sometimes from the beginning of the game.
“In the last few games the situation has been like today. I will never be a super sub. I want to play.”
Such is Dzeko’s amicable tone, that even as he has delivered his disgruntled sentiments to the cameras, he didn’t seem like a man who was fuming with his manager’s decision. Indeed, the Bosnian had just returned from an international double-header that would have influenced the decision to leave him on the bench, as Mancini’s assistant David Platt was particularly eager to point out. But it does suggest that the City are now entering a critical period in the management of their mercurial attacking unit. A long season awaits, but the chances are that at least one of the four are going to be left particularly unhappy as the term plays out.
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You can make the very valid argument that all four of Mancini’s fevered quartet made a cameo against West Bromwich Albion, but you would have thought that last Saturday’s fixture represented something of a one off. It’s not going to be every week that City find themselves a goal down with ten men left on the pitch and nothing to loose. Such a gung-ho approach won’t be in effect every week.
And while all four of them bestow their individual qualities, you could perhaps argue that Mancini is left with a very small amount of room for tactical manoeuvre with his quartet. Both Balotelli and certainly Dzeko, require central accommodation within a starting line up and Carlos Tevez doesn’t offer much more flexibility. Sergio Aguero has the ability to play as a second striker, or even slightly wider if pushed, but with 23 league goals last season, you’d be hard pushed to meddle with him too much.
Ultimately, four top class strikers are ultimately competing for two starting spaces and you get the feeling that something has to give sooner or later.
The school of thought is that the Argentine pair of Tevez and Aguero are Manchester City’s de facto first choice strike partnership. But in Mario Balotelli, City bestow a striker who not only exhibited a glimpse of finally fulfilling his startling potential during the European Championships, but a player whom Mancini clearly believes in. His continued showing of faith despite a deluge of misdemeanours, suggests as much anyway.
Yet in Dzeko, they have a striker who harnesses a better goals-per-minute ratio than any of his Manchester City peers, during the calendar year. The Bosnian may not have be able to conjure up the sort of sublime pieces of skill his three striking rivals can, but his abilities as a goalscorer aren’t in any doubt. Dzeko toiled behind Aguero last season, was stuck behind Balotelli for long periods and Carlos Tevez upon his return, in City’s pecking order last season, Yet he still conjured up 19 goals in 42 appearances in all competitions last term.
Being able to call upon four strikers of the quality of Aguero, Tevez, Balotelli and Dzeko is a wonderful story, but it’s one that is surely destined to have an unhappy ending. No one can predict the way the winds of injury will blow, but you’d imagine that none of Mancini’s strikers will go on any four month holiday’s this season, to break up his striking dilemmas.
Who will be the first to break? Dzeko has stated his desire to stay and fight for his place at Eastlands and undoubtedly, the smart money would have to sit with the enigmatic Balotelli. But one thing’s for sure, if it is Dzeko, someone would be picking up one hell of a goalscorer. And with his knack of picking up important goals, you wouldn’t bet against him coming back to haunt City, either. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out at the Etihad and make no mistake about it, Mancini has a real test on his hands to keep all four of his strikers happy.
How do you see the striking situation playing out at Manchester City? Can Mancini keep all four of his frontmen happy? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell us how the Italian should play this one out.