Sergio Aguero v Cesar Azpilicueta: The key battle when Manchester City face Chelsea
By Matt Cheetham
Last Updated: 03/12/16 12:40pm
Man City host Chelsea in a top-of-the table clash this Saturday as Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte clash for the first time in their managerial careers. How Cesar Azpilicueta and Chelsea's in vogue three-man defence contain a red-hot Sergio Aguero will be central to this game's outcome.
Aguero's threat is no secret to Premier League audiences - or Chelsea fans. The Argentine forward's six goals in nine appearances against them is more than any Manchester City player has scored in this Premier League fixture. In all competitions, he has nine goals against Chelsea, only scoring more against two other opponents (Newcastle and Tottenham).
Aguero is also leading the Premier League scoring charts this season with 10 goals, finding the net far more frequently than any of the division's best goalscorers.
Premier League top scorers in 2016/17
|Player||Goals||Mins per goal||Shots per goal||Shots on target / 90||Touches in opp box / 90||Dribbles / 90|
|Sergio Aguero||10||92 mins||5.5||2.4||8.6||3.2|
|Diego Costa||10||115 mins||4.1||1.6||7.6||2.0|
|Alexis Sanchez||8||136 mins||4.8||1.3||7.6||3.0|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||7||154 mins||9.0||1.9||8.3||0.3|
|Eden Hazard||7||155 mins||5.1||1.5||5.4||4.4|
|Romelu Lukaku||7||145 mins||4.7||1.7||5.2||2.0|
Of these players, Aguero is the biggest presence in opposing penalty areas, as City unsurprisingly seek him out as much as possible. In fact, of all Premier League players, only team-mate Raheem Sterling averages more touches in the box.
The City forward also tests the goalkeeper far more than any of these players, and more than any other player in the division. His 2.4 shots on target per 90 minutes leads the way by some margin, with no other player averaging more than two.
Most shots on target per 90 minutes in the Premier League 2016/17
|Player||Team||Shots on target|
|Sergio Aguero||Man City||2.4|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||Man Utd||1.9|
Eden Hazard is the only player dribbling past an opponent more often than Aguero, and this explosive ability to beat a man is what makes the Argentine so dangerous.
Hazard, like most other prominent dribblers in the division, generally attempts to beat a man out wide, but Aguero is different. He is doing so just outside of, or in, the area. If he's successful, he can often get a shot at goal, while other players tend to be creating room from which to cross or pass.
In terms of out-and-out strikers, no player completes as many successful dribbles and it's this ability to make space in condensed areas that will concern Chelsea most.
Most dribbles per 90 by forwards in the Premier League in 2016/17
|Player||Team||Dribbles per 90|
|Sergio Aguero||Man City||3.2|
However, Aguero has not faced a defence playing as efficiently as Conte's side this season, especially since shifting to a back three. Christian Eriksen's strike for Tottenham is the only goal conceded in the seven games since making that defensive switch, as opposing strikers have been shut down.
Chelsea's striker shutdown since switching to a back-three
|Striker||Team||Average shots on target per 90||Shots on target v Chelsea|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||Man Utd||1.9||1|
In these last seven games, Chelsea have faced only three shots on target combined from the opposition's starting front man. Given their average returns, they might have expected to face three times as many in that time.
Azpilicueta has been the mainstay of this defensive unit and is the only player to play every minute under his new manager, highlighting his value. The Spaniard plays on the right of this three-man defence, alongside David Luiz and Gary Cahill, and by comparing their stats, their different roles can be shown.
Chelsea back-three comparison - Premier League 2016/17
While Cahill and David Luiz are more likely to contest crosses and clear the danger, Azpilicueta has more of a licence to engage opponents, reflected by his higher return of tackles and interceptions. Perhaps surprisingly, he's also far more involved in the passing game than his defensive colleagues.
Azpilicueta had one of his best games of the season last time out against Tottenham, recording seven tackles and four interceptions as he helped break down several Spurs attacks. Three of Azpilicueta's seven tackles were on Harry Kane, and Chelsea will hope he can be similarly effective in one-on-one situations against Aguero.
Even so, Manchester City will be favoured going into this match, especially after a pair of convincing wins over Chelsea last season, in which their Argentine forward scored four times. With Aguero leading the line, Azpilicueta and Chelsea's new-look defensive system will receive its most rigorous examination to date.