Marcos Alonso knew what was coming. "We need to keep an eye on Edin Dzeko," mused the Chelsea left-back ahead of the Champions League game against Roma. By the end of the night, it was hard to look anywhere else.
The Bosnian stole the show at Stamford Bridge with two goals that very nearly allowed Roma to depart with a famous victory. Eden Hazard’s late equaliser meant that both sides would instead have to content themselves with a 3-3 draw, but there was no question who this night belonged to.
Dzeko had already struck 29 times in this calendar year, but none will linger as long in memory as his first here. Running onto a 40-yard diagonal ball from Federico Fazio, he did not break stride as the ball came over his shoulder but instead met it with a ferocious left-footed volley. Thibaut Courtois barely had time to move in the Chelsea goal before the shot was beyond him.
If the second was less spectacular, Dzeko thumping in a header from an Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick, then it might still have left Chelsea’s fans feeling bewildered. Wasn’t this the same forward who had failed to score against them in seven attempts with Manchester City?
Actually, maybe it wasn’t. The Edin Dzeko who has been destroying Serie A defences these past 12 months is scarcely recognisable from the forlorn figure who scored just six times in 32 games during his final season at the Etihad. Laid low by injuries and cast aside by Manuel Pellegrini, it was easy to dismiss the then-29-year-old as a player on the downside of his career.
Nor was he an instant hit in Italy. Despite a winning goal against Juventus in his second game for Roma, Dzeko struggled to find his feet. He went 17 league games without a goal from open play, drawing the ire of fans who blamed him not only for missing chances but also costing Francesco Totti more time on the pitch. It didn’t help that his surname rhymed with "cieco," the Italian word for blind, either.
Few might have imagined back then that he would even make it this far in a Roma shirt. Wednesday’s game was his 100th appearance for the club, and even he acknowledged in the build-up that "it didn’t seem things could go this well after my first season for the Giallorossi."
With hindsight, though, it seems ludicrous that anyone was prepared to write him off so quickly. Wasn’t Totti himself still pushing boundaries despite being almost a full decade older? The Italian had never scored a goal in England until sticking one past Dzeko’s own City at the age of 38.
"They say you get better with age," mused Dzeko this week. "I do think that I’m a better footballer than I was in the past. Maybe I am enjoying the best moment of my career. I’m in good health, and these two and half years in Italy have helped me to grow."
What makes his current form even more impressive is the fact he has sustained it despite circumstances changing around him. Last season he had Mohamed Salah playing to his right in Roma’s three-man attack. The Egyptian was not only a regular source of assists but also an asset just to have on the pitch: his blazing pace forcing opponents to back off and leave spaces for Dzeko to move into.
Asked in the wake of a home defeat to Inter how things had changed under new manager Eusebio Di Francesco, he commented honestly that things were harder this time around. It was not just a question of personnel, Dzeko said, but positions - with Radja Nainggolan now playing further back as well, leaving him more isolated at times.
Although he moved quickly to stress that his words had not been intended as a criticism of Di Francesco, many chose to interpret them as such anyway. Six-and-a-half weeks later, though, we can see that the change has not harmed him. Dzeko has 10 goals in as many games between Serie A and the Champions League.
His name was even included on the 30-man Ballon d'Or shortlist published last week, alongside those of Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi, and Harry Kane. "I don’t think I’m going to win," he said on Tuesday, his words accompanied by a knowing grin.
Indeed not, but who cares? As long as he keeps scoring as often and as well as he is at the moment, we would all do well to take Alonso’s advice and make sure we carry on watching.