Saturday 16 December 2017

Aguero underlines his value as City make light of absent stars to ease past Norwich

Norwich City 0-3 Manchester City

Sergio Aguero scored one and set up another. Photo: Reuters
Sergio Aguero scored one and set up another. Photo: Reuters
Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring City's third goal
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero powers a shot at goal. Photo: Reuters

Richard Rae

It may be that Pep Guardiola will replace Manuel Pellegrini as Manchester City manager no matter how many trophies they win this season, but what is certain is that number - and it could still be four - depends hugely on the fitness of striker Sergio Aguero.

Making only his 13th start of an injury-hit season, the Argentinian was a class apart, certainly as far as the Norwich defenders were concerned, scoring a brilliant first-half goal (remarkably, his 11th of the season) and setting up another for the promising Kelechi Iheanacho on the half-hour.

With the result secured, the visitors simply cruised through the rest of the game, taking as little as possible out of themselves against a passive Canaries side, before Kevin De Bruyne, on as a substitute, ensured that the scoreline more accurately reflected the visitors' dominance.

"If you have a winning mentality you want to be involved in every competition until the end," said Pellegrini, who made seven changes to the side beaten 2-1 at Everton in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

While there was no Joe Hart or David Silva, and Yaya Toure was left at home nursing an ego cruelly bruised by his failure to win a fifth consecutive Africa Player of the Year award, Pablo Zabaleta returned to boost City's creaky back-line, and Aguero started alongside 19-year-old Iheanacho, whom many City supporters would like to see given an extended opportunity.

It was the visitors who had the first shot on target, when Sebastien Bassong's poor touch gave Aguero the chance to find Iheanacho. The teenager's power from a narrow angle required Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy to palm the ball over the bar. Ruddy also had to dive to push away Aleksandar Kolarov's low shot and, having gained momentum, the visitors made it count.

Aguero's run was as strong as it was skilful, beating four attempted tacklers in a drive into the penalty area that ended with him poking the ball past Ruddy as the goalkeeper came out to narrow the angle.

Aguero almost made it two 10 minutes later, a clever volley testing Ruddy. Such was the visitors' overall dominance that Carrow Road was quiet, and with good reason: Aguero's touch and awareness resulted in him giving Iheanacho enough room to withstand a feeble challenge and side-foot the ball calmly past Ruddy.

The teenager's finish was almost as unflustered as the set-up, and given it was his fifth goal in just over 300 minutes of first-team football this season, it was not hard to see why Pellegrini has said he is not in the market for another striker this January.

Norwich manager Alex Neil did eventually send on Kyle Lafferty to give Jerome some support, but Jesus Navas hit the angle of post and bar before De Bruyne thumped the ball under Ruddy from an angle.

"We all know how good he is," said Pellegrini of Aguero. "He's a player who makes a difference."


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