Monday 16 September 2019

Aguero is the goal machine who wore down Pep's doubts

Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring Manchester City’s third goal against Brighton. Photo: Jon Super/Reuters
Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring Manchester City’s third goal against Brighton. Photo: Jon Super/Reuters

Richard Jolly

If there are times when Manchester City's accumulation of trophies feels as inevitable as Sergio Aguero celebrating goals, perhaps it is not.

For a glimpse at an alternative, rather less glorious, form of history, look at the freefalling fortunes of the man who could have been Aguero's replacement.

When Alexis Sanchez joined Inter Milan on loan, he had scored five goals for Manchester United in a period when Aguero got 44 for City. Since Pep Guardiola tried to buy the Chilean in the summer of 2017, the Argentine has struck 68 times.

He is the only player to have scored in each of the first four Premier League games this season, including twice in the 4-0 win over Brighton on Saturday. No wonder his manager said: "We need his goals."

Aguero has been scorer and survivor. When David Silva leaves next summer, the striker will be the sole remaining member of the City title-winning team of 2012.


He threatened to be displaced by the more versatile Sanchez, an old ally of Guardiola's from Barcelona. He lost his place at times to Gabriel Jesus, whose pressing the City manager loves. He was even omitted when Kevin De Bruyne operated as a false nine. He has adapted, evolved and yet carried on scoring with enviable consistency.

He has lost the sprinter's speed, the quicksilver dribbling that brought echoes of Romario and Jimmy Greaves. He has compensated with a predator's precision. When he curled his second goal past Mat Ryan, he had scored with seven successive shots on target in the Premier League.

He may not be as exciting, but he is unerringly precise. City's record scorer has delivered at least 28 goals in six successive seasons.

"Sergio will die scoring goals," said Guardiola. The manager has become a convert to Aguero's cause. Manuel Pellegrini used to refer to the striker as the world's third best player. At times under Guardiola, he has been City's second-choice striker. No longer.

"Even on the days when he doesn't score goals, his commitment is fantastic," said Guardiola.

It is how Aguero has won him over. He may chug where he once glided, but he drags defences out of position. Quietly, he has got more Premier League assists than Gianfranco Zola or David Ginola.

The City manager probably took more pleasure from Aguero's unselfish pass for Bernardo Silva's goal than for either of his clinical double.

Aguero is now only five behind Thierry Henry, the top-scoring foreigner in Premier League history. He should overtake Frank Lampard by Christmas, perhaps Andy Cole later this season. It would leave only Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer ahead of him. That scoring touch could matter still more if City are keeping fewer clean sheets.

Aymeric Laporte could face a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, depriving them of their best centre-back. City's big-spending past means they are unlikely to be afforded much sympathy when Guardiola, who brought in £60m right-back Joao Cancelo in the summer, claimed they could not buy a centre-back. United were willing to pay £80m for Harry Maguire. City were not. "Sometimes we cannot afford it like other teams afford it," Guardiola said.

"We could not pay the money wanted."

With Vincent Kompany gone to manage Anderlecht, City were down from four available senior centre-backs to one on Saturday, though John Stones will be fit for the trip to Norwich on Sept 14.

"We are going to find solutions," pledged Guardiola.

Fernandinho came on for Laporte against Brighton and, like Javier Mascherano, could be a midfielder Guardiola converts into a defender.

"He needs some processes defensively but he is intelligent and has a lot of experience," said the manager.

"One day maybe we need to put Kyle Walker as a central defender." (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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