A glance at the Premier League table shows a picture Manchester City fans are no longer used to. Sitting ninth prior to matchday 14, a hard-fought 1-0 win against Southampton ensured the team could rise to sixth. But that provides little comfort when viewed from the perspective that City’s main title rivals Liverpool are already eight points clear of the Blues at the top of the table.
The Cityzens have become accustomed to sitting in and around the top of the table. It has been the case throughout the last decade, producing four league titles and several other Cups. The team is usually slugging it out for the league title from the beginning of each campaign. But this season’s performance has been on and off, in a way mirroring the state of striker Sergio Aguero.
The Argentine has not gone injury-free for a whole season since Pep Guardiola arrived at the Etihad Stadium. But his current struggle for fitness is the longest during the period. After undergoing surgery on his injured knee back in June, the 32-year-old missed the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign. With the previous season extended due to Covid-19, he was expected to be available for the start of this season.
He did not recover fast enough to feature at the beginning of the campaign. He featured for the first time in City’s fourth league game of the season. That was against Arsenal back in October and played a key role in the game’s only goal to hand City a much-needed win.
In his next game against West Ham, he was withdrawn at half-time with a hamstring problem. It has since been a case of start-stop. From one niggling injury or the other, it has been a struggle to stay fit.
The latest concern arose after the disappointing 1-1 draw against West Brom. He was unable to take part in the next two training sessions in preparation for the Southampton game.
Ahead of the encounter, Guardiola was asked if the striker would be in line to face the Saints, and he replied: “I don’t know. After the game he could not train, yesterday no training, today he trained.
“He trained really well but I don’t know how many minutes [he will play against Southampton].
“It’s important he can make training sessions. Unfortunately, after the game he could not, nothing about the knee. Unfortunately a different position. Today he trained.”
As it turned out, the Argentine could only make the bench at St. Mary’s stadium. Ferran Torres was deployed once again to fill in as Gabriel Jesus was absent. But the Spaniard struggled to make an impact and was replaced in the second half.
Aguero has been the go-to man for goals at the Etihad Stadium for the better part of the last decade. Jesus still has a long way to go to fill the City legend’s boots, although he is trying hard.
What has become clear in the scheme of things is the fact that Aguero’s fitness or the lack of it is at the centre of the team’s struggle in front of goal this season. The 32-year-old scored 21 league goals in each of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 campaigns. That coincided with Guardiola’s most successful seasons so far at the club.
Injuries curtailed his influence last term and the team failed to live up to standards set in previous seasons. It appears things will get even worse this term if his lack of fitness continues.
To put things into proper perspective, according to Opta, City have converted 30 per cent of their “big chances,” in the league this season. To understand how poor that is, only relegation-threatened Sheffield United, West Brom and Burnley have fared worse in this regard in 2020-21.
That points to the fact that Guardiola may need to look at additional options right now. It is an idea he has shot down each time there have been suggestions of such. But the current situation calls for a solution.
In the end, this may just be a sign that it is time to move on. Aguero has paid his dues and will not be the player he was five years ago ever again. Age is also a factor in his recovery. While he could spend another season at City, we cannot turn back the hands of time.
However, while we wait for his full fitness and the Blues struggle to rediscover top form, Erling Haaland is waiting.