Adam Bate looks at the return of Carlos Tevez and his renewed importance to Manchester City this season. Are the Premier League champions ready to cope without Sergio Aguero?
By Adam Bate - Follow me @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 20/08/12 2:58pm
Carlos Tevez looks hungry. And given the amount of weight he appears to have lost, who can blame him? We probably had sufficient evidence already in the rotund shape of Colin Montgomerie but it turns out a life spent on the golf course does not a prime athlete make. Even so, such is Tevez's ability that he still played his part in the spring as Manchester City ended their 44-year wait for the title. Now though, he's truly ready.
"This is the best I have ever felt ahead of a new season because for the first time in four or five years I have had a full month of pre-season training," said the Argentine forward. Crucially given their tumultuous relationship in the past, it's a belief echoed by Tevez's boss. "He is now 100% fit. This is the first time in four years we have had him this fit," added Roberto Mancini.
It's a fairly ominous thought when you consider Tevez's remarkable goalscoring record since crossing the Manchester divide and becoming a billboard star. His 48 Premier League goals in a City shirt have come at a rate of one every 127 minutes. And it's worth remembering that the 28-year-old was fashionably early to this particular party. Nearly half of those goals came before the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure had laid eyes on Sheikh Mansour's formidable chequebook.
What might a fit Tevez achieve with that kind of service from midfield? Goals in the opening two games of the campaign have provided a clue but in truth we had one already in the form of Sergio Aguero. Tevez's compatriot scored 30 goals in his debut season at the Etihad Stadium but made a less than glorious start to 2012-13, damaging his knee under a challenge from Nathaniel Clyne early in Sunday's victory over Southampton.
Mancini was open about his concern after the game. "I am worried," said the Italian. "Anything around the knee is dangerous and this injury was so strange because it was not a bad tackle." Internet speculation was rife with suggestions that Aguero could have torn his cruciate ligament and would miss much of the season. Bookmakers immediately began to take big bets on United winning the league.
Aguero himself took to Twitter to stress that initial scans indicated no significant damage had been done. But the scare put a new complexion on City's forward line - particularly in contrast to a United strike-force bolstered by the arrival of Robin van Persie.
Mancini has made quite the show of his frustration at the lack of signings this summer with his 'ask Brian Marwood' refrain being a feature of the transfer window. He appeared to toe the line when asked if a move for Van Persie had been possible. "No, we have four strikers so it was impossible to put another striker in the squad, even though he is one of the best," he said. Before tellingly going on to label United's forward options the best in the world.
Can the champions - an outfit with such riches at their disposal - really be vulnerable to the loss of one key goal-getter? Well, it would be unlikely to improve the coach's mood. Mancini's 'four' includes two perceived loose cannons in Tevez and Mario Balotelli and, in Edin Dzeko, a forward who must be acutely aware that his manager would have begged RVP to come to Eastlands if only the Bosnian had the decency to shuffle off the wage bill.
With Tevez seemingly established as a starter, there is cause for concern when assessing the prospect of pairing him with Dzeko or Balotelli in Aguero's absence. Tevez has started seven games alongside the former Wolfsburg target-man, with the highpoints being Dzeko's brace against Aris Salonika and the Argentine's two goals at home to Wolves. The other five matches yielded no wins, a solitary goal between them and they haven't been seen in the starting line-up together since a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in April 2011.
As for Tevez and Balotelli, while their only Premier League start together since 2010 resulted in a 5-0 home win over Sunderland, the last time the combustible duo appeared on the pitch together prior to this weekend saw Balotelli sent off against Arsenal.
While Mancini may feel peculiar at having to rely on his erstwhile adversary, how relieved he must be to find himself in a position where he can count on Carlitos once again. Indeed, it is perhaps ironic given the length of his absence that Tevez perversely appears to have a great sense of timing. The Balotelli red card at the Emirates Stadium saw Tevez thrust back into the starting line-up for a six-game sequence that brought six wins and a sensational title triumph.
Now with Aguero facing a spell on the sidelines, Tevez looks to be at his physical peak and ready to become the central character in the Manchester City drama once again.