In amongst what has been a whirlwind start for Manchester City in the 2015-16 season, the performances of Sergio Aguero have been a little overlooked.
With just three goals scored in 10 appearances so far in all competitions in the early stages of this campaign, the Argentina international has been short of the levels which saw him cement his status as one of the world’s finest center-forwards last season. Indeed, a last-minute penalty winner against Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday will gloss over what was another underwhelming display.
City’s form has suffered as a result, with Aguero’s salvo against Borussia earning this team their second win in five games.
Of course, the problems which have been endured as of late run deeper than the form of their new no. 10. But so often a moment of brilliance from Aguero has bailed the team out of trouble in precariously poised games; it’s an asset which has been pulled from underneath them in the early weeks of the term.
So what’s been the catalyst for this minor deterioration? After all, the Albiceleste star seems to have shaken off the perennial injury problems which have riddled him, and he’s been playing in front of one of the most creative midfields in world football.
A hangover from the summer’s Copa America, perhaps? Where Aguero and Argentina made it all the way to the final of the tournament before losing in galling style to hosts Chile. After a similar heartbreak in the World Cup in 2014, the mental strains of those failings may have mounted up.
They’re valid reasons, but the most pertinent looks to be the tweak to City’s way of playing. Pellegrini has deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation in the early stages of the season, which has got the very best out of David Silva when fit. Kevin De Bruyne too, after a massive summer transfer, has been hugely impressive in his early outings in the sky blue jersey.
It’s understandable that Pellegrini is looking to flood the midfield, maybe even inevitable. After all, the club parted with over £100 million for two players that’ll fill those positions in De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling last summer. They’ve come into the squad in addition to men such as Silva, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas, all who are vying for similar spots in the side.
For all his qualities, Aguero has never thrived as a lone striker. He’s still a tremendous player at the point of the attack when on his own, but thinking back to some of his most memorable displays at City, they’ve been alongside a partner. Indeed, players like Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo have all struck up exceptional links with Aguero since his move to the Etihad Stadium.
At the moment, finding a partner for the Albiceleste man will be tough. Aside from Wilfried Bony, who has failed to set ablaze since his January move from Swansea City, there are no other senior centre-forward options in the squad. Kelechi Iheanacho is promising, but still raw, while Sterling has operated in the position, but hasn’t ever looked comfortable.
On his own, Aguero can get crowded out of matches, especially in the Premier League, as City routinely have to face sides convoluting the pitch and preventing service coming into him in English football’s top flight.
With English teams increasingly content with sitting back, soaking up pressure and springing into action, it’s part of a wider issue.
Lone center-forwards, as a result, find it much more difficult to get involved in games, especially when they have a duty to occupy centre-backs and free space for creators. Think back to Aguero’s only goal of the Premier League season so far, when he wriggled free of a swarm of Chelsea defenders after picking the ball up in a tight area.
Of course, he has the quality to pull off moments of majesty such as the one aforementioned. But for a player who is devastating when isolating defenders and bursting into space, the shift in system means Aguero has become a foil for players like Silva, Sterling and De Bruyne, rather than the finishing point of attacking forays.
Fingers may be pointed at Aguero and suggestions made that he has to start showing more if this team is to get completely back on track. Still, without a gravitating presence alongside him up front, City are not utilising the talents of their talisman to their full effect.
It leaves Pellegrini with an intriguing conundrum to consider. With players like Silva, De Bruyne, Nasri and Sterling in the team, City’s midfield play is likely to be refined and aesthetic. But even with so many architects playing behind him, a 4-2-3-1 system is never likely to get the very best out of Aguero.
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