Man City's Dzeko looks the real deal; Chelsea gets back on track
Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko could be the missing piece for Man City
Avram Grant's time as manager of West Ham looks to be over
Robin van Persie's return gives Arsenal a much-needed cutting edge
Five things we learned from Saturday's "action" in the Premier League:
1. Edin Dzeko might be the answer. The players Manchester City has bought in its two-and-half year spree under Abu Dhabi ownership can be divided into three groups. The big, athletic and technically accomplished midfielders and defenders have been broadly successful. The big-name strikers have been, by and large, catastrophic failures. And Carlos Tevez.
City's defense has wobbled on occasion. It did so again in the last 22 minutes on Saturday. City led 4-1 with 25 minutes left at home to Wolves and ended up clinging to a 4-3 victory. Cling on it did and the three points took City into first place. After a shaky start against a spirited foe, City's midfield had taken control. After Kolo Toure, a defender who had given away an early goal to Wolves, leveled from a corner, the "attack" took over. So far this season for "attack'' read Tevez. He danced through the Wolves defense to score one goal, headed a second, his 15th of the season, and helped set up Yaya Toure for another.
City has spent a fortune on strikers. Robinho is long gone. Roque Santa Cruz left last week. Emmanuel Adebayor may follow very soon. Jo started Saturday banished to the bench. Mario Balotelli can score but has shown no appetite for the hurly-burly of English soccer and is injured. City has been climbed into contention on the squat shoulders of Tevez. He could do with help. On Saturday the latest big-money striker, Edin Dzeko, a Bosnian bought for a reported 27 million pounds or $42.8 million, from Wolfsburg made his debut. Robinho, Santa Cruz, Balotelli and Adebayor all, at some point in their careers, had been found disposable by big clubs.
Dzeko is a man on an upward curve who arrives carrying little baggage -- other than an immense wad of petrodollars. Dzeko should improve as he gets to know his teammates. In his first 90 minutes he did not come close to scoring but still looked as if he might be what City have been seeking. He is big and seemed unbothered by the robust attention of Wolves defenders. His movement is smooth and athletic. His ball play is deft, even tricky. He played as a genuine central striker, giving City's play a menacing focus it has lacked and rarely gave the ball away trying to beat the defense on his own -- that's Tevez's job. In Germany, Wolfsburg, Dzeko scored better than a goal every other game, the traditional measure of a top-level scorer. At City, strikers, like the team itself, have had a bad habit of flattering to deceive (remember Rodney Marsh), but as City spent a night atop the league for the first time in 39 years, it could reflect that for 90 minutes, Dzeko had looked the part.
2. Chelsea's defense can win games. Didier Drogba again looked a dud. Frank Lampard, normally a one-man firing squad, hardly managed a shot. Nicolas Anelka peppered the fans behind the goal. Chelsea utterly dominated a limp Blackburn team at home, but for 57 minutes looked utterly incapable of turning that domination into goals. Then the center backs, John Terry and Branislav Invanovic, lumbered up for a corner. Terry won the header. Ivanovic whacked the ball into the goal. A similar formula earned Chelsea an insurance goal 19 minutes later. This time, Ivanovic leapt above the defense at a corner. He nodded the ball to Anelka and barely a yard from goal even an out-of-form Anelka could not miss. It was ugly but it was a victory, only the second in 10 games for the reigning champion. It bobbed back up to fourth place, but that long dry run means it is seven points behind the leader. Manchester United could stretch that to eight points if it wins at Spurs on Sunday.
"Our difficult moment was too long," Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager said when asked by Sky Television if his team could still win the league.
3. The Arsenal enigma. Last week the International Federation of Football History & Statistics, a body that has done some work for FIFA, soccer's governing body, named Arsene Wenger its World Football Manager of the Decade. It brought the inevitable jibe that it was the first trophy Wenger had won for six years. There is no doubt that Arsenal does play the beautiful game beautifully. Only Barcelona does it better. Like Barça, Wenger recruits his players young (and cheap) and trains them to play his way. The 3-0 victory at West Ham on Saturday that kept the Gunners on the heels of the Premier League leaders showed all Arsenal's ball mastery without dispelling the doubts that surround it. On the rare occasions West Ham's powder-puff attack got anywhere near the penalty area, Arsenal quivered. Arsenal dominates midfield in part because it crowds midfield. To do that, Wenger plays only one striker. Arsenal can struggle to turn domination into goals. Its only score in its previous three games -- two of them against lower-division foes -- had been a penalty. On Saturday its one genuine goal-scoring striker, Robin van Persie, making only his fifth league start of the season, tripled his season's tally with a pair of goals. He gave the beauty a cutting edge.
4. West Ham would be better off with Martin O'Neill. Avram Grant is clearly a decent man. That's probably more than could be said of either of West Ham's owners David Sullivan and David Gold. No manager deserves to be left publicly dangling as Grant has been in recent weeks. He has handled it with great dignity. That does not alter the fact that his team was a shambles as it lost at home to Arsenal. The problem may be that when they hired Grant in the summer, the two Davids handed him a relegation-quality squad. Still, Grant has shown at Portsmouth that given a relegation-quality squad, he will lead it to relegation. If you want to make the most of mediocre, Martin O'Neill is your man. He is, it seems, available. If O'Neill takes over by Monday he will be the third manager in the first 12 months of the Davids' ownership. They should be warned. O'Neill has repeatedly shown that he expects his owners, like his players, to do as they are told.
5. Maybe it's West Brom for sixth place. In the brief life of this column it has anointed West Brom, Bolton and Sunderland as teams that might surprisingly finish fifth or sixth and earn a place in Europe. Such is the glorious messiness of the bottom three quarters of the Premier League that each of those clubs has followed a couple of impressive results with a bad defeat or, in the case of West Brom, five. Maybe Blackpool, the most unlikely and romantic of outsiders would stake its claim by continuing its recent surge with victory at struggling West Brom. Of course not. Peter Odemwingie, who cost the Baggies a potential victory over Manchester United with an awful penalty miss, scored twice as West Brom won a wild game, 3-2.
"It was a rollercoaster,'' Roberto di Matteo, the West Brom manager told the BBC. The same could be said of pretty much the whole Premier League this season. This much we know: someone will finish in sixth place.
Peter Berlin has been following English soccer for 45 years and reporting on it for 25 years.
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