“I’m concerned,” admitted Pep Guardiola when asked about Manchester City’s goalscoring shortcomings during the opening couple of games. If Sergio Aguero didn’t share that concern, he almost certainly will now after spending an hour of his Saturday afternoon on the bench.
Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were paired together up front during the win at Brighton and draw with Everton, with Guardiola starting the season with the 3-5-2 shape that he prefers. But with City reverting to 4-3-3 – a formation that served them well during the final weeks of last season – one half of the strike pair was in for disappointment. Not for the first time under Guardiola, the fall guy was Aguero.
Predictably, the Argentina hitman reportedly did not welcome the news. Reports suggest he remained back on the City bus when it arrived at Bournemouth and he failed to make an appearance during the warm-up. When he took his place on the bench, he had to watch Jesus deliver another impressive performance – one that earned him the Sky Sports Man of the Match award – that was capped with a fine goal which showcased the Brazilian’s speed, intelligence and goalscoring instincts.
Guardiola eventually summoned Aguero with 25 minutes remaining, but even with City looking for a goal that eventually arrived in the 97th minute, his partnership with Jesus was separated after only a quarter of an hour together. The identity of Aguero’s support acts, though, mattered little. The frontman was well-shackled by the hosts’ three-man defence and the way he wasted his two opportunities – the first was City’s best opening of the second half that was weakly struck at Asmir Begovic while the other was a tame free-kick that soailed harmlessly away from the target – summed up their profligacy in the opening weeks of the campaign.
This was not the first time Aguero has failed to shine as a substitute. He has now netted only once in his last 16 appearances off the bench, where he obviously has no desire to remain.
Sergio Aguero: City have dropped just 5 of 39 points from the 13 league matches that Aguero has not started since the start of last season pic.twitter.com/s5UHmh6QZz
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 26, 2017
But he is facing an increasingly difficult task to usurp Jesus if Guardiola persists with this system. The Brazilian, after arriving in January, has settled more quickly than anyone could have hoped and his record of being directly involved in 12 goals in his 11 starts for City highlights his impact. Jesus, perhaps unlike the predatory Aguero, is a complete striker, who creates for others as well as helping himself to his fair share of goals. The Brazilian has five assists in his 11 starts; Aguero has the same number in 32 starts in the Premier League and Champions League since the beginning of last season.
Aguero’s frustration at not being the main man last season was obvious and Jesus’s injury perhaps spared Guardiola more grief from the City legend. Having been warned during pre-season and after both Premier League matches so far, his omission at Bournemouth was a starker reminder of his status under the Spanish coach.
His star could fall even further if, as expected, City try to tempt Arsenal into selling them Alexis Sanchez this week, and the win on the south coast is unlikely to have weakened Guardiola’s desire for the Chilean. “I don’t know, we will see,” the manager replied when asked whether he will be looking to recruit further in the coming days. Sanchez remains more likely to stay with the Gunners for now, but should he move, Aguero may decide to do the same.