Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has been hit with a four game suspension following his sending off for a horrific challenge on David Luiz in the final few minutes of City’s 3-1 defeat to Chelsea at the Etihad stadium on Saturday.
The striker’s studs up two footed lunge on David Luiz sparked a mass scuffle in the dying minutes of the match which marred the brilliant performance and entertainment put on show by both teams who we expect to the right at the summit of the Premier League table come the end of the season. Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho was also shown a red card for his actions as he choke held Cesc Fabregas and pushed him over the advertising hoardings.
Sergio Aguero serves an extended ban as he has already been penalised for his elbow challenge on Winston Reid during City’s 3-1 win over West Ham in August. His ban means he will miss games against Leicester next weekend, Watford, Arsenal and Hull City which serves as a potential headache for Pep Guardiola has he tries to keep with Antonio Conte’s in form Chelsea during the hectic Christmas period.
Certainly, Sergio Aguero will be a huge miss for Guardiola and his men and may even lead them to dropping vital points in the run in for the Premier League title. Aguero has been City’s top scorer in each of the last 5 seasons and he has continued to show his importance to the team with an impressive 10 Premier League goals in 12 appearance so far in the new campaign. His absence will have City’s next opponents breathing a huge sigh relief considering the striker’s world class ability. However, City and Guardiola can take comfort from their form without their star man.
Man City with and without Aguero since start of 2015/16 PL season
|With Aguero starting||Discipline||Without Aguero starting|
|1.9||Goals per game||2.1|
|1.8||Points per game||2.0|
|12.0||Shots per game||11.1|
Surprisingly, since the start of last season City have actually gathered more points and more goals scored in the 12 Premier League games he has missed compared to the 40 games he has started. The Argentinian’s absence gives them a more superior win percentage and City have averaged a much better possession rate when he is not in the team.
Guardiola will hope the trend continues as Aguero starts his ban against Leicester City. City’s new £27million pound star Gabriel Jesus was in the stands on Saturday but the Brazilian will not be able to join up with his new team mates until the new year, so what are the options available to Pep Guardiola?
The only natural replacement for Sergio Aguero is Nigerian starlet Kelechi Iheanacho who has not started a Premier League game for Guardiola’s side since October but he was impressive during Aguero’s last suspension in the Manchester derby where he notched a goal and assisted Kevin De Bruyne as City ran out 2-1 winners at Old Trafford. Whenever City have called upon their young striker, he has duly delivered – ever since he was give his debut by Manuel Pellegrini last season. He was similarly impressive in the 4-0 win over Bournemouth, netting from Raheem Sterling’s cut back before returning the favour to assist the England winger in extending City’s lead.
It was a clear continuation of his recent form under Manuel Pellegrini when given the opportunity. Iheanacho’s stats make incredible reading despite the small number of times he has started for the club. With 11 goals in 1050 Premier league minutes, the Nigerian international has the best minutes-per-goal ratio of any Premier league player to hit 10 or more goals since the start of last campaign.
Best mins per goal ratios since start of 2015/16 PL season (min. 10 goals)
|Player||Mins played||Goals||Mins per goal|
Iheanacho’s average of a goal every 95.5 minutes puts him ahead of Sergio Aguero and to boot, he has registered 4 assists – twice as many as his team-mate despite playing just a third of the minutes. It remains to be seen whether the Nigerian striker can maintain that sort of form that sees him as one of the best young strikers in Europe and with the depth and attacking talent of those around him would surely assist his cause. There is no doubting his raw quality; what is so impressive about the Nigerian is his ability to be at the right place at the right time as was shown in his goal against Manchester United in September – quickly anticipating Kevin De Bruyne’s shot that rebounded off the post.
Kelechi Iheanacho has scored 11 goals from just 17 shots on target since his Premier League breakthrough last season.
With the weight of expectations weighing heavily on the young man’s shoulders to fire City back level with Chelsea, Guardiola would expect the same kind of form that has brought the Nigerian to instant fame. Recent history suggest another brief stint in the starting XI for Kelechi Iheanacho may just be the solution to Guardiola’s striker dilemma.
Furthermore, the other option for Guardiola is to revert back to his false-9 manoeuvre – a similar trait he succeeded with in his time with Barcelona playing Messi as the withdrawn striker in a 4-3-3 set-up. He deployed the tactic again against Barcelona at the Nou Camp earlier in the season and it nearly worked but for Claudio Bravo’s incompetence in goal.
Belgian playmaker, Kevin De Bruyne was the player chosen for the role, with Sergio Aguero demoted to the bench. City collapsed after Claudio Bravo’s sending off but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Guardiola adopt a similar innovation for the 4 games that Aguero is suspended for.
Whilst sacrificing the archetypal striker for a midfielder might be perceived as a counter productive tactic to scoring, it can be an effective method when trying to exert control in a game. For much of the game at the Nou Camp, City matched Barcelona for possession of the ball and with De Bruyne’s energy, they were able to apply much pressure to the Barcelona backline because of their knack of playing out from the back.
De Bruyne is the only player to have been used in that role, but history shows that Guardiola is never afraid to try something new, and the likes of Raheem Sterling, Nolito, Leroy Sane may be quenching their fists at the possibility of leading the line for City.
No doubt about it, losing a player of Sergio Aguero’s ability is sure to anger most teams across the world, but during his last suspension City won at Old Trafford and the stats suggest that his absence could prove a blessing for Guardiola and his new team. The options are their to exploit; Kelechi Iheanacho may be inexperienced at the highest level and maybe can’t cope with the pressure of leading the line, but if the Premier League is anything to go by, is that no matter how old or young you are, there’s always an opportunity to express at the highest level – that’s the beauty of the Premier League – Iheanacho’s impressive league record despite his tender age highlights exactly that.
Aguero’s suspension is far from ideal but recent history suggests that City have enough to maintain a strong Premier League challenge without him, sooner rather than later we’ll find out – starting at struggling champions Leicester City at the King Power.