Never before has Pep Guardiola suffered such a slow start to a season. His teams have started campaigns sluggishly in the past, like when Barcelona lost and drew their first two La Liga games of the 2008/09 season, but this is something new for the Catalan coach, with Manchester City winning just three of their first eight Premier League PINC fixtures this term.
Defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday left Guardiola’s side slumped down in 12th place of the table, a long way off where they wanted to be this season. City are already eight points adrift of Jose Mourinho’s early pace-setters having struggled badly for consistency. They certainly don’t look like title challengers.
Against Spurs, one player in particular was notable in his absence. Sergio Aguero has been sidelined for much of the 2020/21 season so far through injury and City missed the Argentine’s cutting edge on Saturday as they failed to find the back of the net despite creating a number of good opportunities.
Named on the bench for the match, Aguero was not deemed fit enough to make a cameo. Gabriel Jesus was deployed as the central striker, flanked by Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres on the wings. All three players are top level performers, with Torres in particular enjoying an impressive start to the season, but title races are decided by small margins and it’s in these margins where Aguero frequently delivers.
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He is one of the best centre forwards in Premier League history, netting 180 times for City. Only Alan Shearer (260), Wayne Rooney (208) and Andy Cole (187) have scored more Premier League goals than Aguero. He is arguably the greatest player in Manchester City’s history as a club, helping them to three league titles and countless other trophies.
But at 32 years old, Aguero is into the twilight of his career. His contract is up until the end of the season and there have been no indications the Argentine is about to put pen to paper on an extension. Manchester City will have to find a successor for their top scorer and their failure to cope without him this season doesn’t bode well.
Jesus has long been tipped as Aguero’s heir apparent, but while the Brazilian is an extremely talented player who offers City a lot he is still to prove he can deliver the biggest moments on the biggest occasions. Jesus’ goalscorer record is respectable, but it often feels as if he needs three good opportunities to score one.
Torres has done well as something of a ‘False Nine’ for City this season, but the Spaniard is not much of a penalty box operator. This deficiency could force the Etihad Stadium outfit into the transfer market, but to find someone as ruthless as Aguero they will likely have to break their club record transfer fee.
Erling Haaland has links with Manchester City, with his father Alfe Inge Haaland playing for the club, while Lautaro Martinez another potential successor to Aguero. Both players would cost a lot, although the former reportedly has a release clause of just €75 million written into his Borussia Dortmund contract. That won’t be active until 2022, though.
“We know we have to start winning games,” Guardiola said after the loss to Tottenham. “I don’t think we’re far away, but we’re struggling to score goals right now. That’s the reality. The first year Chelsea took advantage, the second season and the third and the fourth was so clear. This looks close, but it’s nine games so still a lot to play, we will see how it’s going to happen.” The return of Aguero would certainly help City in the short-term, but they have more than just the short-term to worry about with regards to the Argentine striker.
Source: Forbes – Business