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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Have Manchester City Already Replaced Sergio Aguero?

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Sergio Aguero announced this week that he will leave Manchester City at the end of the season.

If the 32-year-old departs the Premier League, as is likely, he does so as one of the greatest players to ever grace the English leagues and arguably the best striker of the Premier League era.

His goal record certainly backs this up. Only Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, and Michael Owen have scored more than Aguero’s 181 Premier League goals, and only Thierry Henry and Harry Kane (both 0.68) have a better goals-per-game ratio than Aguero’s 0.67. He’s also Man City’s all-time record goalscorer by some distance, with 257.

Aguero hasn’t always been judged by goals alone, though, especially by City’s most recent manager, Pep Guardiola.

“Pep asked me to try a new way of playing and I had to adapt. It wasn’t easy but I had no choice,” Aguero said in the 2019 book, Pep’s City: The Making of a Superteam.

“My game is totally different now from what I was doing five years ago at City. A total transformation.”

It sometimes feels like Guardiola uses strikers begrudgingly, but just as the City manager encouraged Aguero to adapt his game, Aguero also made it near-impossible for Guardiola to leave him out.

Goals will always win out, as what is a system designed to do if not produce goals? But Aguero also proved he could adapt, he learned to press from the front and often played in the style of the No.10 on the back of his shirt, with Guardiola asking him to maintain a central position where possible.

He also has 73 assists for the club, per Transfermarkt, which sees him fourth among City’s top assist makers since this stat has been counted.

“The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches,” Aguero said on Sky Sports TV in 2018.

“I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well.”

Last season was the first since Aguero arrived at City that he was not the club’s top scorer in all competitions, with Raheem Sterling topping the charts. 

Aguero has only featured sporadically this season due to injury, but there have also been occasions when he has been available but unused. 

Despite this, City have been the outstanding team in Europe this season. They’re still on course to win domestic trophy in England and are also favourites to win the Champions League suggesting that, at least in some ways, they have already replaced Aguero.

Due to his limited game time this season, Aguero only has one Premier League goal, a penalty against Fulham, and just three in all competitions.

Gabriel Jesus has been the obvious backup player for Aguero in recent seasons, but even with Jesus available Guardiola has used a number of other players in the central attacking position.

Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Ferran Torres have all done a job in the role, with Guardiola sometimes choosing one of them over one of a recognised striker.

This isn’t to say City won’t sign a centre-forward in the summer transfer window, and they have already been linked with a number of names.

This player will be an Aguero replacement in as much as they are a centre-forward coming in to replace a centre-forward, but Guardiola has already adapted his team for life without Aguero, regardless of who comes in this summer.

Any new arrival will be an upgrade to the current system which has already learned to replace the goals scored by the prolific Argentine.

In terms of this player being an upgrade to the existing system, rather than merely complimenting it, Erling Haaland is the obvious choice, and the Norwegian’s name has regularly been linked with the club. His arrival would make the task of taking the title from City next season all the more daunting for the other challengers in the Premier League.

Aguero is City’s greatest goalscorer, arguably their greatest ever player, and undoubtedly contributed to their most memorable moment when he scored to win the Premier League title for the club in the final game of the 2011/12 season—their first league title since 1968.

But the way City operate means he can and will be replaced, and in many ways he already has been.

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