Now into his 4th year in the Premier League, Sergio Agüero has already warranted comparison with some of the Premier League’s greatest goal-scorers. In the modern day, he certainly commands a place with the leagues’ elite. Adam Bailey has a look at Agüero in the lone striker role and in a strike partnership as witnessed in City’s past two games.
Sergio Agüero became Manchester City’s all-time top Premier League goal-scorer this past weekend after scoring all four goals in his side’s 4-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur.
But the terrific feat hardly came as a surprise to Manchester City supporters. The Etihad faithful adopted and mothered the Argentine like a Mancunian academy graduate the minute he landed in the North West during the summer of 2011, and he rewarded that affection with an impassioned strike against Queens Park Rangers that sprinkled glitter on 44 years of gloom in 2012. Two years on, and the £38.5m City spent on Agüero still seems like pennies.
The former Atlético Madrid striker has now scored 61 league goals in just 95 games for the English champions, and holds the record for Premier League’s all-time goals-per-minute ratio chart, averaging a goal every 108.3 minutes. His intoxicating movement, lightning speed, bullish strength and command of both feet sets Aguero apart.
A humble and courteous individual off the pitch, the 5ft 8 South-American wears an innocuous smile through the corridors of the Etihad Stadium. But on the pitch, he’s a bully. Younes Kaboul was the latest victim of his ferocity in the Premier League and the battle between the two ultimately sealed Tottenham Hotspur’s grisly fate.
Flexibility in systems and incredible movement
Agüero’s opener on Saturday provided a refined example of the man’s ability to finish. Each of the Argentine’s nine Premier League goals this season have hit the back of the net within a yard of the post, but it was Younes Kaboul’s negligent defending that allowed the striker to find space and fire past Hugo Lloris after just 13 minutes.
Kaboul presented City’s marksman with at least two yards of space in which he was able to cut back into and find the perfect angle to find the bottom corner.
The Frenchman also made the mistake of showing Agüero onto his strongest foot, and in doing so he aligned himself parallel with the forward who was able to use his pace to take an extra touch and shoot into unobstructed space. Kaboul has made more defensive errors (2) than any other Tottenham Hotspur player so far this term, and crucially, both of them have led to goals.
Manuel Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1 formation also played an instrumental role in Kaboul’s demise. As a lone striker, Agüero is forced to cling to the shoulders of defenders, but also stay in a more central role up front. His ferocious pace gives him an incredible advantage when running onto through balls, especially against defenders such as Kaboul who lack the ability to keep up with that pace.
In a 4-4-2 system, Agüero is given the freedom to drift horizontally across the 18-yard-box with Edin Džeko holding up the play and providing a base in a central role up top. But the Bosnian’s absence against Spurs coerced Agüero into battle with Tottenham’s central defenders rather than their full backs. It was a shrewd tactical decision by Manuel Pellegrini who knew his striker’s pace and agility would torment the heavy legs of Kaboul and Federico Fazio.
Agüero has scored six of his nine Premier League goals as a lone striker this season, and although he has forged a carnivorous partnership with Džeko thus far this term, the role allows him to occupy a more central position and target central defenders who are generally slower and less equipped to deal with his speed.
But although the lone role gave the South American the pleasure of teasing and tormenting Mauricio Pochettino’s centre-backs through the 90 minutes, and even though all 11 of his shots came from central positions, it would be unwarranted to label his display as static.
Agüero’s movement mesmerises defenders, and it had Kaboul and Fazio in knots this weekend. Just minutes after netting his second, the striker found himself one-on-one with Kaboul who watched helplessly as the Argentine sprinted past him into the box, checked back, and then cruelly race past him again to force his brilliant goalkeeper into a smart save. The 26-year-old may have an abundance of pace in his armoury, but he also brings a goody-bag of twists, turns and tantalising touches to the party.
Federico Fazio was handed a baptism of fire debut against his international teammate, and the former Sevilla defender eventually resorted to illegal physicality in the face of Agüero’s avidity. Agüero was thrown to the floor as he surged into the box to meet Jesus Navas’s cross – but it was Fazio’s only legitimate means of stopping the unplayable forward.
Agüero salivates over goals, and the predatory 30-yard burst into Tottenham’s penalty area presented the Etihad Stadium with a fine exhibition of raw pace and a hunger for goals. His ardor was rewarded with the chance to seal his hat-trick from the penalty spot – a chance he took brilliantly.
But the £38.5m man, described as ‘Mozart’ by Mauricio Pochettino in the build up to the fixture, had not yet completed his symphony, and with 15 minutes left on the clock, Agüero slotted in his fourth, this time with his left foot.
Again, hanging menacingly on the shoulder of Jan Vertonghen, Agüero latched onto a smart free-kick taken by Fernandinho, cut inside, and angled a sublime left-footed finish into the bottom right-hand corner of Hugo Lloris’s goal.
Agüero as a second striker & Pellegrini’s error
The South-American assassin was less effective in Manchester City’s 2-2 draw with CSKA Moscow on Tuesday evening, but was still on hand to net his fifth goal in 130 minutes of football to give his side the lead in Russia.
Agüero operates differently alongside Edin Džeko, compared to what he does as a lone striker. The Bosnian’s physicality and ability to hold up the ball allows his partner to weave in and out of the defence in a more liberated role. The Argentine is not a natural target man, and Džeko’s tendency to wrestle with defenders in central positions means Agüero can torture the entire back line with his exceptional movement. The partnership ensures Agüero is not restricted to a central role where his movement is sometimes easier to track, and instead, he is able to spread and open up back lines.
The understanding between the pair was instrumental in City’s first goal on Tuesday. Although Džeko’s presence in the team removes a number of responsibilities from Agüero; the South-American prefers to play higher up the pitch and his speed allows him to provide support for the ex-Wolfsburg man when he receives the ball in attacking positions. Against CSKA, Agüero continued to run alongside his Bosnian striker partner as he latched onto an exquisite lobbed through ball from David Silva, and the Argentine pulled defenders toward him to present Džeko with more space as he surged into the box.
Edin Džeko is not blessed with the same pace as his strike-partner, and without Agüero alongside him in the situation above, CSKA’s defenders would have been able to focus their attentions on one player rather than two, and most likely prevent the Bosnian from scoring. However, Agüero’s determination to get into the penalty area drew defenders away from Džeko, and also gave him a secondary option instead of going for goal himself. 28-year-old Džeko opted for the selfless option, and Agüero tapped the ball into the empty net. He may be a scorer of fine goals, but he’s also an old-fashioned poacher.
Agüero’s enchanting performance against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday treated Manchester City fans to a fantastic exhibition of how effective he can be as a lone striker, but on rare occasions when the forward is dominated and suppressed by strong defences, he can leave his side vulnerable to the counter attack.
The Argentine is a physical striker, but Edin Džeko is more reliable when City want to keep the ball high up the pitch and relieve the pressure on their defence. Džeko will use his muscular frame to hold off defenders and invite City’s attacking players forward, whilst Agüero is more likely to receive the ball and run at defenders. However, that tendency means he often loses the ball when his teammates are pressing high up the pitch, and the opposition are allowed to drive into acres of space in front of City’s back four.
In summary, when Manchester City are pushing for a goal, Agüero’s directness is preferred in the lone forward position, but when the Blues are trying to protect a lead, Edin Džeko’s strength should be utilised. Manuel Pellegrini made the mistake of leaving Agüero on the pitch instead of Džeko as they fought to defend a 2-1 lead against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night, and his decision back fired.
Is the Argentine underrated? It’s a difficult question to answer. Criticism is rarely directed towards Sergio Agüero because of his consistency. The 26-year-old is a consistent goalscorer, and his game is characterised by a wicked concoction of speed, agility, strength, and enthusiasm that the Premier League both fear and admire. With Luis Suarez now plying his trade in the Spanish La Liga, there’s no question that Agüero is the league’s most ferocious striker, and although Diego Costa is undoubtedly an accomplished target man, Sergio Agüero is the more complete and formidable marksman.
Written by Adam Bailey
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