Are Man City already preparing for life after Sergio Aguero?

Mark Critchley
·4-min read
Are Man City already preparing for life after Sergio Aguero?
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero (PA)
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero (PA)

Saturday’s hard-fought win over West Ham was Manchester City’s 39th game of the season but only Sergio Aguero’s fourth start and his first since October.

Though there was understandable excitement around his return to the line-up, City’s all-time leading goalscorer failed to add to his tally of 256 before being replaced shortly after the hour mark by Gabriel Jesus.

It is now more than a year since Aguero last completed 90 minutes in a City shirt - ironically, in last season’s corresponding fixture against West Ham at the Etihad - and it has been a year to forget.

Aguero suffered a knee injury in City’s second game back during Project Restart - a 5-0 win over Burnley - which ruled him out of the tail end to last season and delayed his start to the current campaign.

Once he eventually returned, a hamstring problem sent him back to the sidelines. Once that cleared up, a close contact a positive Covid-19 case forced him to self-isolate. Then, he tested positive himself.

The upshot is that Aguero has made 13 City appearances since last year’s first lockdown, being either substituted on or off in all of them, and he has never played more than three games in quick succession.

That was why Guardiola gave an honest but sympathetic assessment of Aguero’s muted performance on Saturday, which included him giving up possession in the build-up to West Ham’s equaliser.

“In the first half he struggled because the team was not good. He was so isolated in the position he was playing. In the second half, we played better. He was more involved in the game, in the process.

“We cannot deny that he needs time like every player after one year out,” the City manager added.

In order to find rhythm, Aguero will need regular minutes and perhaps even a solid stretch of three or four starts. Only a few players are afforded such a luxury under Guardiola’s rotation policy, as he was all too happy to point out.

“I always think with Sergio we need him in this part of the season, in the right moments, as he has that special talent and special quality and it’s going to help,” he said.

“I know Sergio's so important for us – what he’s done for this club, he scored the most important goal, he was part of all the success, and we want to help him and he will do it.

“But at the same time, today Raheem [Sterling] didn't play, Phil [Foden] didn't play, Bernardo [Silva] didn’t play. I try to handle it so everybody is involved, everybody is part of this. That’s what I want.”

The suggestion was that for now at least, Aguero will be playing a bit-part role.

“At the end, there will be games that will be tight and difficult and we need Kun,” Guardiola added. “We need guys who can score a goal and the best guy in those terms is him. But he came from one year injured and needs time - as any one player would.”

And even for a player of such standing and importance, there can be no sentimentality. “He knows it. He knows it from day one,” Guardiola said. “That is not for Sergio, it is for everyone.”

Guardiola’s comments have to be taken in the context of a year which has already seen City cope in Aguero’s absence, whether that be through Jesus, a false nine or otherwise.

They also have to be viewed in light of Aguero’s contract situation, with his present deal at the Etihad set to expire at the end of the season.

No decision has been made on a renewal, which is still very much a possibility.

Aguero, though, was still uncertain when asked recently about what his future holds. “I don't know what to do yet,” he admitted. “The first thing I want to do is play and at the end of the season we will see.”

A bit-part role between now and the end of the season may be the clearest indication yet of what comes next. After a decade of depending on Aguero, a player integral to their every success, City are learning to live without him.

Read MoreJohn Stones earns victory over West Ham as relentless Man City march on