Two goals in a 4-0 win over West Brom might not usually be so significant for Sergio Aguero. West Brom are, if we’re honest, a few levels below Manchester City, both in terms of talent and expenditure, and Aguero’s talent easily surpasses that of their defence. So, to see Aguero so forcefully celebrate his two goals this weekend suggested that the match meant more than usual. This, for Aguero, was no routine win, it was a reassertion of his talent and his importance to the side.
It has been an odd couple of weeks for Manchester City and Aguero. The club had been without a win in six matches, Pep Guardiola’s worst run in management, coming into the match with West Brom and Aguero’s place in the team had been brought into question. Things appeared to be in flux, with previous conclusions re-evaluated and question beginning to be asked about the side.
It is obvious that poor runs of form allow previously unnecessary criticisms to surface but Aguero’s situation appeared altogether more fundamental. The genesis of such attention to Aguero’s role in the team was Guardiola himself, as the head coach took the side to Barcelona and left out the player that many regard as City’s best. There appeared to be something amiss. Going away to face perhaps the best side in the world and leaving out your talisman did not come from a logic that most football watchers understand. For many, the decision pointed to a rift, a sort of personality clash between Guardiola and Aguero. For others, the move rested on Guardiola’s long-held preference for team without any real striking focal point. At Barcelona, Lionel Messi led the line as a false nine. At Bayern, Robert Lewandowski played as a more conventional striker, yet his role as the leader of the initial forward press demonstrates a more complete forward than Aguero.
So, with all of these issues floating around, Aguero returned to the starting line-up away at West Brom. The two goals he scored were not particularly remarkable, but there was more to it than that. The previously mentioned celebration was significant, as was the way that Aguero carried himself throughout the game. Usually, Aguero’s celebrations are muted. Scoring goals is what he does. One, two or even three against West Brom is just another day in the life of Sergio Aguero. So, to see the energy invested into the celebration of his first goal this weekend suggested that the past few weeks had gotten to him. He had a point to prove. That point was also evidenced in his performance of the ball. For much of his career, Aguero has tended to occupy central positions, moving to the channels when necessary but largely doing his best work in or just outside of the penalty area. But at West Brom, Aguero was all-action. He was pressing left and right, flying around the pitch and putting in the sort of tackles that he is not usually associated with. Aguero appeared transformed.
The previous conclusions about Aguero’s absence for the Barcelona game then changed. The West Brom game had altered perceptions, and Guardiola’s post-match comments also pointed at another reason for Aguero’s time on the bench. “I am going to help him to be much, much better,” Guardiola said of Aguero. “That is my target.” It is clear, therefore, that Guardiola wants more from his striker. Sitting centrally and hitting 25 league goals is not going to be enough anymore. Every player has to contribute to numerous phases of play. The team, for Guardiola, is a totality and has to operate as such. It is not Guardiola cannot work with strikers, it is that he cannot tolerate one-dimensional players. The West Brom game showed that Aguero is beginning to learn that