Pellegrini's hopes of late run to title rest on Aguero
Man City 4-0 Aston Villa
In the midst of a turbulent season, Manchester City are seeking comfort in the memories of the recent past and the form of Sergio Agüero.
Manuel Pellegrini is pinning faint hopes of a Premier League title on the fact that City have come from a long way back to finish top twice in the last four seasons. "We need to continue to believe we can do it," the City manager said.
If they are to make significant inroads into the 10-point gap to Leicester, though, then keeping Agüero fit will be crucial.
The forward appears to be over the injury problems that have troubled him throughout much of his five years in Manchester. City are feeling the benefits as he has scored 12 goals in 14 games in 2016.
Two of those goals came against a dispirited Aston Villa side on Saturday; it should have been a hat-trick, but he hit a post with a late penalty.
Agüero's first had a degree of fortune, with Villa captain Micah Richards, once the leader of City's youth team, slamming an attempted clearance off the forward's shins and into the net. His second, though, was sublime. A wonderful piece of chest control brought down David Silva's chipped return pass, and was followed by a clinical drive between goalkeeper Brad Guzan and the near post.
"For me, he is the best player in the league, and probably one of the best players in the world," City defender Bacary Sagna said. "He is the best I have played with. He never loses the ball. Even when he does seem to lose it, he gets it back and holds it, and manages to create space. He lifts the team up."
City need Agüero to stay fit because the back-up options offer little consistency. Raheem Sterling is learning to add goals to his game, tapping in his 11th of the season from close range to make it 4-0 after the Argentina international's double, but Pellegrini has declared that the former Liverpool man is still a work in progress. Kelechi Iheanacho, for all his promise, is not yet the finished article either.
Wilfried Bony, though, does not have the excuse of inexperience to fall back on. Given a first start since St Stephen's Day as Pellegrini opted for a two-man attack, the Ivory Coast international had a horrible afternoon, and became a target for the home fans' unhappiness during a goalless first half. Having sliced wide early on when clean through, Bony missed the goal by a good 10 yards when given a free header from Silva's corner.
The striker has had a testing 14 months since his £25m move from Swansea, suffering with injuries, poor form, frustrations at a lack of game time and even a summer bout of malaria.
Sagna said: "It's tough for him, but if I lose the ball, they are going to be the first ones to shout at me and we have to take it. We are professional players. It's part of football. But it won't affect him, no. They are going to be the same ones who cheer at him when he scores."
It could be worse for Bony; he could play for Villa. Rémi Garde's side defended deep for 45 minutes, and managed to keep City at bay, but they crumbled once Yaya Touré steered the home side in front just after the break. Villa's manager has taken 12 points from his 18 games, and has had to deal with boardroom chaos and dressing-room unrest. It seems to be a question of when, rather than if, he will leave.
"In the first 45 minutes, you saw a team that is committed, dedicated and trying to work hard," he said. "But all of a sudden when you concede a goal, we have not enough character, not enough strength to reverse the game."