It was a thrilling night, full of mistakes, drama and controversy and, ultimately, a remarkable feat of escapology for Manchester City against AS Monaco in the round of 16 Champions League tie. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling were the stand-out performers in one of the finest matches seen at Etihad Stadium. But the cutting edge was provided by Sergio Aguero, whose future has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
It was another reminder why City’s crowd sing about the their team “fight to the end”. And the epitome of the slogan is Sergio Aguero.
Aguero in the form of his life
It was a match that was arguably the most enthralling seen here since Aguero’s 94th-minute winner in May 2012 , which secured City their first title in 44 years. And the striker showed he still retains all the old powers.
Aguero and his City colleagues had to contend with a blaze of attacking intent from Monaco. But in between the youthful zest of Sane and Sterling, he was the spearhead and creator. He was rewarded for trying his luck with his first goal that prompted a dreadful error from Monaco keeper Danijel Subasic. He scored his second with a crisp, instinctive right-foot volley. The Argentine then set up the fifth for Sane, the goal that gave City a cushion. It was the complete, consummate attacking performance.
Aguero also has a psychological impact on opponents and it gives Guardiola and City a powerful weapon. His first goal was City’s 200th in the Champions League and he has now scored five in his past three games at Etihad Stadium in this competition.
One of the modern game’s great strikers
- Aguero has scored 20 goals in 29 appearances this season
- Total of 11 goals in 19 Premier League games
- The Argentine has scored 156 goals in 237 games for Manchester City
- He has scored 91 goals at Etihad Stadium in 116 games
- Aguero scored 64 goals in 116 games away from home
- He has a scoring rate of 0.78 goals per game and assures a goal every 95 minutes
Aguero has nothing to prove
The spectacular and instant impact of Brazilian teenager Gabriel Jesus saw Aguero left on the bench for the Premier League victories against West Ham, Swansea City and Bournemouth. However, whenever called upon, Aguero demonstrates that the idea City would be better off without him is nonsense.
Aguero has no point to prove, his record speaks eloquently enough. He has accumulated a reputation and body of work that makes the finest defenders fear his threat. And at the elite level of the Champions League, that is a priceless commodity.
Aguero has been untouchable, undroppable, under all his previous City managers, but Guardiola appears less enamoured. It looks like an uneasy relationship and will only have become even more complicated. Jesus, at just 19, and 21-year-old Sane, represent a golden future for Manchester City along with Raheem Sterling at 22, but Aguero looks like a player in his prime and fit to play his part – not just now but in the years ahead.
His recent goalscoring form has not been of his usual standard but he is the epitome of the phrase “class is permanent”.
Guardiola needs Sergio Aguero
Aguero has never had to justify his place at City before and it has had a debilitating effect. Where once there was calm under pressure, there is now fear of missing, where there used to be certainty, there is doubt. Guardiola wants to redesign the City team, and he will bring in new players to suit his style of play, rather than adapt a style to suit the players he already has.
The Argentina international has had to get used to an unusual role on the fringes in recent weeks, and for the first time in his City career he started a third Premier League game in a row as a substitute. The reason isn’t goal-scoring. Few are better at that than Aguero. Instead, Jesus provides the high-speed pressing from the front Guardiola desires. Combining with fellow young forwards Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, Jesus is leading City’s attack – and defence – from the front.
It seems remarkable that a fully fit Aguero, who has the best goals-per-minute record in Premier League history, can’t make the starting XI. After all, he scored 11 in his first six matches of 2016/17, and seemed to be thriving under Guardiola earlier this season.
The Catalan’s decision to shunt the popular goalkeeper Joe Hart out to Torino on loan was taken on the chin by supporters who idolised him. Any similar fate for Aguero would not meet such easy acceptance.
Few managers would be willing to sideline such a proven prolific goal-scorer. But Guardiola is re-shaping City. And that seems to be where Aguero stands right now. No longer the star man. No longer the first name on the team sheet. But an asset. A talented option. An alternative to Pep’s primary plan.
How much would it cost City to even think about replacing Aguero? A lot more than the £38m it cost them to bring him in from Atletico Madrid in July 2011.
Picture Courtesy: BBC