The battle to make the XI – and those better off out of it
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It’s already proving to be one of the quotes of the season: “You can call me whatever you want but I will never accept that I’m a super-sub,” vowed Edin Dzeko after his double salvo from the bench booked a superb three points for Manchester City’s 10 men at Fulham a few weeks back.
• Ignoring City’s own deficiencies on Saturday for a moment, I find it hard to see how Reading will stay a top-flight club beyond this term. The effort was there but judging on the few outings I’ve seen now, being tactically simplistic and lacking the defensive or attacking quality to win about 10 games will cost them in the end. The good news for City is, treating West Ham and Reading as Blackburn and Wolves 2011-12 respectively, they remain two points up on last season. Needless to say, the trip to Southampton already looks key.
• Wilfried Zaha has a load of potential, as does Raheem Sterling. Both so young; neither ready for senior England calls.
Not bad for a team everyone seems to be desperate to label as out of form.
Of course, it’s not so much the goals Dzeko scores after coming off the substitutes’ bench – you can add one more following his winner against Spurs on Sunday. It’s more about the lack of goals when he starts.
The stats say it all – 0.43 goals per game when Dzeko has started, and 2.19 when he has come on from the bench.
The Canaries’ host Premier League leaders Manchester United this weekend – still leaders primarily thanks to their own super sub. Javier Hernandez’s brace and enforcing of a third following his half-time introduction at Villa Park made it nine wins for the season and five in six away from home for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
It was an individual performance that looks set to earn the little Mexican and his multiple nicknames a starting spot at Carrow Road on Saturday evening.
“When you score a hat-trick, you pick yourself – I think he’ll be playing next week,” mused Fergie.
And maybe that will be a good for City. Hernandez’s own strike rate from the bench is 1.46 goals per game – and 0.6 when he starts.
Norwich have had their own superstar substitutes over the years of course, and almost certainly none of them preferred the label to being in the first XI.
Footballers want starts. For every time they come off the bench and make a major impact, there are a handful of games sat watching the minutes tick by, broken up by the odd meander down the sidelines to warm up –just in case.
With the size of some Premier League squads, even getting that close to the action would represent regular career activity.
Grant Holt, Simeon Jackson and – for instigating a Jan Vertonghen own goal – Alex Tettey are the men to score from the bench for City this term; Jackson’s record arguably making him the Canaries’ auditionee for the super sub role – again, not that he’d want to be.
As always it’s the drive to start games that produces results from the once who don’t. But if they fluff their chance of a place in the XI when it does come along, they can have few complaints.
Dzeko failed to make his point in Mancini’s XI at West Ham. On Saturday, it’s Hernandez’s turn.
• Excuse the column overlap, but for my regular F1 number in the EDP I spoke to departing BBC anchor and City fan Jake Humprhey.
His new job post-F1 2012 will be leading BT’s Premier League coverage from next season, as they step in to replace ESPN.
And given his superb effort for the BBC during their live coverage of the East Anglian derby almost exactly two years ago, it would be a real shame if the former Framingham Earl High pupil didn’t get the chance to be occasionally subjective in his new job.
“I was nervous at the start of the year that, just as I decide to devote my time to the Premier League Norwich wouldn’t be there,” Jake told me.
“But I think the way they’re playing now, I’m very confident Norwich will be in the top flight next season and I’ll get the chance to report on their fortunes.
“I feel a similar sense of excitement as I did in 2008 when I was told the BBC would give me the F1 job, because I think there’s a real opportunity to take the viewers even closer to football than they have ever been before.
“It’s our national sport. There’s no surprise Norwich sell out Carrow Road every weekend – people love football and for me to present some of the biggest games in the country, it’s going to be really special.
“And I’ll secretly have my fingers crossed for Norwich underneath the presenter’s table every time I talk about them.”