Sergio Aguero must count down the days on his calendar to Manchester City’s fixtures against Tottenham, giggling from the moment he wakes up on match day. Every striker has a favourite opponent, but Spurs seem to offer Aguero a special generosity. It’s now eight goals in his last four matches against them.
It has been an odd season for the jewel in City’s crown. Despite suffering from a series of frustrating muscle injuries, Aguero has scored 22 league goals in 31 games and is the clear favourite to win the Premier League Golden Boot. The only surprise is that it will be the first such award in his career. You can add six more goals in the Champions League this season, including a hat-trick against Bayern Munich. It’s 103 since he arrived in July 2011.
Aguero’s goalscoring exploits this season are even more impressive given the regression in form of those playing behind him. Despite the struggles of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Fernandinho, James Milner and even Pablo Zabaleta during different periods of the season, Aguero has become an even more vital cog in this City machine. He wasn’t exactly a peripheral figure beforehand. City have stumbled and stuttered in failing to defend their title, but Aguero is immune from all blame. That’s been the case for some time.
Ignored by his fellow professionals in the nominations for the PFA Player of the Year award, Aguero now suffers from the principle of increased expectations. It’s an affliction that both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have also struggled to shake. Hearing the opinion “Messi’s on a bad run, he’s only scored four goals in his last nine games” is not an unusual occurrence. Like those two magisterial talents, Aguero has set such a high benchmark for excellence that the exceptional is subsequently easily overlooked. He has made the extraordinary seem run-of-the-mill.
Aguero’s winning goal was an example of the breed. On first glance it was simplicity itself, a fabulous through ball from David Silva finding the striker with just Lloris to beat – the rest is predictable. It took the slow-motion replay to appreciate the perfect timing of Aguero’s run, the briefest of glances determining his exact location in relation to the goal. The finish was also superb, taken early enough to prevent Hugo Lloris from planting his feet and arrowed into the top right-hand corner. As Thierry Henry said at half-time, when perfected it becomes an impossible shot for a goalkeeper to save. Brilliance as standard. Again.
After a largely pitiful defence of their crown (again), City’s squad is in desperate need of an overhaul. The likes of Toure, Milner, Edin Dzeko, Stevan Jovetic, Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair are all likely to leave the Etihad this summer, and more will follow. Gaps will be created that fresh-faced signings must fill. Some of them must be English, too.
City’s spine of Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero was instrumental in their first two titles. The first of those has lapsed alarmingly, the second seems set to leave and Silva turns 30 in January. Still just 26, Aguero must become the leader of a new Manchester City. Only three players in City’s squad against Spurs were younger than him, and none of those (Eliaquim Mangala, Wilfried Bony and Dedryck Boyata) have had a meaningful positive impact this season.
Crucially, Aguero also seems content with life in Manchester. “There’s lots of talk about Real Madrid and Barcelona. It’s always the same every year,” said the striker last summer. “But the truth is that I’m going to stay at City. I’m very happy and I’m going to continue there.” In the modern media age of transfer rumours designed to generate clicks, it’s telling that Aguero isn’t even attracting fanciful whispers this year.
On the day they ceded their Premier League title to Chelsea, there are few reasons for Manchester City optimism. Aguero acts as the oasis in the desert that fails to disappear as you approach. He is not only their best player, but is also happy to stay and fight for more titles.
Now City must make Aguero the lynchpin on which their next three seasons are based. His brilliance alone can win matches but, for title victories, he needs more than a little help.