If 2012 was the year that Sergio Aguero cemented his place in Manchester City history on the back of a single moment, 2017 was the year he made sure he'll be remembered for his other achievements too.
His cool finish in City's 4-2 victory over Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo was apt in a number of ways: the essential Aguero-ness of his explosive surge towards goal and no-frills drive into the corner. It was also, as so many of his goals tend to be, the game's decisive moment. Its context – a Champions League win at the home of Italy’s best side for much of this season – showed a team and player who have stepped things up a notch since the summer.
Aguero became the Premier League's top scoring non-European when he netted against Brighton in August (123rd goal). Only 11 players have scored more Premier League goals than the Argentine (132)
That goal came amid a run of 10 in 12 games – hardly unchartered territory for Aguero, but no small return for a player who has had to reshape his game rather dramatically since the arrival of Pep Guardiola last year. Having established himself among the planet’s elite footballers by dealing in the cold hard currency of goals, Aguero has spent the past 18 months enacting his coach’s strict instructions to expand his repertoire and master the less fashionable arts of harrying, pressing and stealing possession – and all, preferably, without compromising that uncanny ability to introduce ball to net.
It’s been no easy task, not least due to the background presence of Gabriel Jesus; seven years Aguero’s junior, yet able to do all of the above with unsettling ease. For the first time since moving to City, Aguero has found himself with a genuine competitor for the centre-forward spot. But thr Argentine's response has been emphatic.
In the 11 months since Jesus made his debut, Aguero has scored 25 goals for City. After a couple of kick-up-the-backside demotions to the subs’ bench, he has shown himself to be well capable of functioning in Guardiola’s pressing machine, padding out his game with frenzied hounding of defenders, dummy runs and added link-up play.
At heart, though, Aguero remains a pure goalscorer, attested to by the fact that his minutes-to-goal ratio at City is shorter than that of Shearer, Suarez, Van Nistelrooy, Henry or Kane – the best, indeed, in Premier League history.
At 29, Aguero is approaching the end of his prime. With 132 goals and a couple of title winners’ medals to his name, he is well-fed on the meat and drink of league achievements.
There are two glaring gaps on his CV, though, each with an international tinge. First is an inability to impose himself on European club competition; in this respect the failing is less his (39 goals in 66 Champions League outings is no mean feat) but his club’s, with City’s regular early exits denying him the platform to impress upon the tournament’s later stages. The early signs are that the Guardiola era may well consign this to history.
The second is on the world stage, thanks to his comparative struggles in the Argentina side. Whether he can remedy this in time for Russia remains to be seen – his match-winning goal against next year’s hosts in November was a promising indication – but if he continues his glittering form at club level for the next six months, then Jorge Sampaoli will have little choice but to pick him. There are certainly worse problems to have.
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