LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Feb 4 – Much has changed at Manchester City in the three seasons since Pep Guardiola took charge tasked with turning the wealth of the club’s Abu Dhabi backers into domination of English football.
However, if Guardiola’s men are to reel in Liverpool to become the first side in a decade to retain the Premier League, Sergio Aguero is likely to be the primary source of goals just as the Argentine has been for the past seven seasons.
Aguero was a City legend from the moment he won the club’s first title in 44 years with virtually the last kick of the campaign in his debut season.
But the 30-year-old is now staking a claim to be regarded as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever imports, particularly if he spearheads a fourth title triumph in eight years in England.
Already firmly established as City’s all-time leading scorer, Aguero’s hat-trick in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Arsenal was his 14th for the club, his 10th in the league – just one short of Alan Shearer’s all-time record.
It also took his Premier League tally to 157, eighth on the all-time list and just 18 goals behind the only overseas player on that list, Thierry Henry who stands in fifth.
The bare numbers underestimate Aguero’s knack of scoring when it really matters.
In 63 appearances against the big six rivals in the Premier League, the former Atletico Madrid striker has scored 40 goals, 19 more than any other player in the same period – Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
Such a record would appear to make Aguero untouchable. Yet, that was very much not the case in the early days of Guardiola’s reign when the Catalan preferred the youthful energy of Gabriel Jesus as he demanded much more than just goals from his strikers.
Even at the latter stage of his career, rather than revolt, Aguero adapted and won over Guardiola during City’s romp to the title with 100 points last season.
“I know my players when I work with them in the good moments, bad moments, how they react,” said Guardiola after Aguero’s latest goal glut against Arsenal.
“When people in the first year said I’m not friends with Sergio, sometimes I played Gabriel or Raz (Raheem Sterling) as a striker, they were my decisions but I was always delighted (with Aguero).
“Today, it wasn’t just that he scored three goals but for how he tried, fought, and worked backwards. He gave absolutely everything for the team.
“Of course he doesn’t have the energy of Gabriel or Bernardo (Silva) but every player has his own quality.”
Even this season Aguero has played nearly 600 fewer minutes in the Premier League than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah — who leads the race for the golden boot.
However, as City continue a huge week in their title challenge at Everton on Wednesday, that early season rest could be key to the champions retaining the trophy that matters if Aguero is the fresher of the two for the title run in.