“If Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision,” that was the clear response last week from Pep Guardiola to speculation that Sergio Aguero isn’t part of his long-term plans at Manchester City.
The former Bayern Munich boss backed up his sentiment on Sunday by handing Aguero a start against Southampton in a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium.
Aguero wasn’t at his brilliant best versus Claude Puel’s men with substitute Kelechi Iheanacho upstaging him to grab the equalising goal – but the 28-year-old wasn’t the only City player that put in an underwhelming performance against the Saints.
On Wednesday, City went down to a heavy defeat to Barcelona in a game that quickly escalated out of sight after Claudio Bravo was sent off for handling the ball outside of the penalty area.
Bravo’s mistake overshadowed the fact that Guardiola had left Aguero on the bench for one of City’s biggest matches of the campaign.
However, some of the tabloids didn’t simply sweep it under the carpet, with reports claiming that the Argentinian, along with fellow absentee Vincent Kompany weren’t part of Guardiola’s plans for his new City side.
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 23, 2016
The Spanish boss dismissed those reports after the match at the Camp Nou, saying both players “have a future” at the Premier League side.
“With respect to Aguero, it was a tactical decision,” said Guardiola immediately after the game with Barca. “I wanted one more midfield player in the middle. I try to keep the ball because when you have it, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez don’t.”
In truth, City were well in the game in Spain until the 53rd-minute when Bravo’s decision to handle Suarez’s chip would prove costly.
Up until that point the decision to leave Aguero out was largely effective as City crowded the midfield and pressed high up the field, leading to some very good chances for the Premier League side.
Despite Guardiola’s explanation for leaving the Argentina international out of the starting XI against the Catalans, the Sunday Express today claimed that City are lining up a big-money deal for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a replacement for Aguero.
If the speculation over Aubameyang is true, then it’s clear Guardiola is looking to inject his attack with more energy and work-rate.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) October 23, 2016
Aguero struggled early on against Southampton with a couple of promising dribbles ending with a tackle from a Saints defender, while he can count himself unlucky when attempted passes from Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling couldn’t find him in good positions.
A howler from John Stones midway through the first half gifted Southampton the lead before Aguero denied Stones redemption when the Argentinian – standing in an offside position – attempted to head the ball before the former Barnsley centre-back smashed it home.
Referee Mark Clattenburg correctly chalked off the goal for offside to the despair of Stones.
Iheanacho replaced De Bruyne at half-time after his ineffective first-half showing and it was the Nigerian international that scored the equaliser for City to provide Guardiola food for thought.
Iheanacho’s introduction gave City the bite they needed up front and Aguero will be worried for his place when City face arch-rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Despite Aguero’s tireless running in the final third, he isn’t a player that will necessarily harass defenders to give him the ball back and that was clearly demonstrated against the Saints.
In fairness to the Argentine, the service he received was disappointing for most of the afternoon and he did drag a shot wide in the last ten minutes when he created a chance out of nothing.
However, with Gabriel Jesus joining in the January transfer window from Palmeiras and Nolito already in the squad after his arrival from Celta Vigo in the summer, it’s obvious that Guardiola prefers a striker that can play in all three forward positions.
Aguero is not in the mould of striker that Guardiola desires but as one of the most feared players in world football, the City boss is unlikely to want to lose his goals.
Heading into today’s match, Aguero’s record since joining City in 2011 was an impressive 147 goals in 217 appearances – this record alone should be enough to convince Guardiola to keep him at the Etihad Stadium.