It seems a long time since Sergio Agüero’s two-goal Manchester City debut marked the arrival of a bona fide superstar in the Premier League.
It was a balmy August evening and Roberto Mancini’s City faced Brendan Rodgers’ newly-promoted Swansea in their first game of the 2011-12 season. Surprisingly, the visiting side outplayed the home team for much of the first half, continually forming triangles in midfield and making a mockery of the notion that there was a gulf in quality between the two sides.
The tide turned soon enough, of course. Shortly after Edin Džeko opened the scoring on fifty-seven minutes, the star of the show replaced Nigel De Jong and immediately took centre-stage. When the final whistle went thirty-five minutes later, the chasm in class had been made obvious – not only between the two sides, but between Agüero and the rest of the Premier League altogether.
Within nine minutes of his introduction, Agüero tapped home a Micah Richards cross to make it 2-0. Three minutes later, he picked Steven Caulker’s pocket in the Swansea area, lobbed the ball over the onrushing Michel Vorm and acrobatically squared for David Silva to slam into the roof of the net. Stoppage time brought his pièce de résistance, as he received the ball thirty yards out and unhesitatingly powered a spectacular drive into the far corner of the goal.
After the game, the verdict was unanimous: there was no stopping Sergio Agüero. If that was what he could do in half an hour, then Manchester City might as well start the next thirty-seven games with a two-goal handicap. The title race would be a procession.
Obviously, the response was disproportionate; Agüero’s performance overhyped. The title was indeed won, and Agüero scored one of the most iconic goals in Premier League history to seal it, but there remains a belief that there should have been so much more. As all of City’s stars did under Mancini, he shone only sporadically: hindered more than helped by the Italian’s tactics; rotated in and out of the team in such a way that prevented him from ever establishing momentum.
Agüero’s 2012-13 was mediocre at best. As the Mancini reign entered its death throes, he became ever more ineffective despite playing as many games as ever. His total of seventeen goals – respectable for most other players – represented his lowest haul since 2007.
In this Premier League campaign, he has scored three goals in five appearances, including two in the derby win over United, but he has only taken eight shots in total: 1.6 shots per game. In City’s recent game at home to Hull, he tried to score only once in seventy-six minutes before being substituted. With all due respect to Hull, he should really be looking to leave with the match ball.
One may argue that Kun is a victim of his own ability. Throughout his club career, he has been asked to play a supporting role to a more orthodox number nine just ahead of him. While his partnership with Diego Forlán at Atlético was an absolute success for both players, his spells alongside Carlos Tévez, Mario Balotelli, Edin Džeko and Álvaro Negredo at Manchester City have largely been underwhelming.
The logic behind playing Agüero off of a target-man is obvious: it allows City to play with two strikers and he has the technical skills to link up with both the midfield and the target-man ahead of him. However, it denies the born poacher his most valuable resource: space in the penalty area. The biggest reason his record against his sides’ rivals is so good is that they set out to win the game themselves and allow him that space. Their ambition is his fuel.
The Premier League’s lesser defences represent a different challenge. They have long been accustomed to parking the bus when the big boys come to town, so playing Agüero as the support striker is a waste. While he has the ability to make a contribution in that role, it is unlikely to be a decisive one.
With his goal threat all-but reduced to zero, City’s opposition can focus on shutting down the more creative David Silva. The Hull game was textbook example of a recurring trend: if Agüero is the nominal number ten against a crowded defence, not a lot is going to happen.
That his remarkable talent is not being maximised is a great shame. Since emerging with boyhood heroes Independiente a decade ago, Agüero has proven himself time and again as one of the deadliest finishers around. Possessing unplayable pace, outstanding movement and an unerring right foot, Agüero has all the tools to post the sort of goal tallies we have grown used to seeing from his close friend Lionel Messi. Unless something changes at the Etihad, it is unlikely ever to happen.