Aguero injury takes gloss off City fightback
Manchester City 2-1 West Brom
On this evidence, Manuel Pellegrini may come to regret omitting Samir Nasri from his Champions League squad. The Manchester City midfielder marked his first start for almost seven months with a goal that could go a long way towards helping his club secure a top-four finish this season and, with it, handed Pellegrini's side a timely boost ahead of Tuesday's Champions League tussle with Paris St-Germain.
Sidelined for the majority of the campaign after groin surgery, Nasri was withdrawn from City's Champions League squad in February at the expense of Kelechi Iheanacho but he played like he had never been away here to move City within two points of third-placed Arsenal.
West Brom had frustrated City after taking an early lead through Stephane Sessegnon but Sergio Aguero's penalty drew the home team level before Nasri made the most of the uplift triggered by Kevin de Bruyne's second-half arrival to claim an invaluable winner.
Pellegrini had been talking on Friday about the problems of chasing a game in the Premier League but it is not as if his team are unfamiliar with the experience. This was the 12th time in 32 league matches this season City went behind and, in the previous 11, they had only recovered to win twice. Hardly a record to inspire confidence.
With De Bruyne and Yaya Toure on the bench and David Silva and Raheem Sterling out injured, along with Vincent Kompany, this was very much a case of Pellegrini investing his faith in his squad ahead of the visit of PSG.
There had been a degree of misfortune to the way City fell behind. Fernando had no one but himself to blame for his shambolic blunder in the 2-2 draw against PSG in Paris but he was a touch unfortunate when Nasri was accidentally prevented from receiving his pass after being body-checked by referee Mike Jones.
Still, there should be less sympathy for City's subsequent failure to stymie West Brom's counter-attack. Darren Fletcher sprayed a pass out wide to James McClean, who was given far too much time by Pablo Zabaleta to cross. Sessegnon, similarly, was afforded too much room by Aleksandar Kolarov to control a high ball before firing through the Serbian's legs and past Joe Hart at his near post.
PSG will have taken note. It does not take too much imagination to slice through City's defensive block - if you can call it that.
There was a palpable sense of relief when City equalised. Kolarov fed Aguero, who played the ball quickly to Nasri. The Frenchman returned the ball to Kolarov and, as he raced into the penalty area, Sessegnon stuck out a leg and tripped him. Aguero did the rest.
It was Aguero's 23rd goal of an injury-plagued season and if anyone doubts his importance to this City team they need only take a look at Wilfried Bony, who so seldom seems to impact games and has been a shadow of the player who made defenders' lives a misery at Swansea.
No wonder he was hauled off after an hour for De Bruyne, with Toure also entering the fray, as any hope Pellegrini had of giving the pair a complete afternoon off was dashed in the desperate search for a winner.
The change would pay almost immediate dividends and it was De Bruyne who proved the architect. Winning possession down the right, the Belgian crossed for Jesus Navas who fed Aguero. His shot was blocked but a subsequent tackle succeeded only in playing the ball into the path of Nasri to slot home.
The only potential worry for City was the sight of Aguero - the victim of a heavy challenge from Jonny Evans early in the second half - hobbling at the end before being replaced by Gael Clichy. Pellegrini will pray it is nothing more than a minor knock.