Sergio Aguero seemed set to lose his place in the Manchester City team to Gabriel Jesus 18 months ago, so what's changed? Nick Wright examines how Aguero has adapted his game for Pep Guardiola.
Level with Michael Owen and behind only Jermain Defoe, Robbie Fowler, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Andrew Cole, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer. Sergio Aguero's goal in Manchester City's 6-1 win over Southampton put him in good company. The Argentine is only the ninth player in Premier League history to reach 150 goals in the competition.
It is a milestone which reflects his outstanding contribution to English football. Aguero has surpassed 20 goals in five out of seven full Premier League seasons since his arrival at Manchester City from Atletico Madrid in 2011, and he is on course to achieve the feat again. Sunday's goal was his seventh in 11 appearances so far.
Not long ago, however, it seemed he might not get this far - at least not with City. Gabriel Jesus was not viewed as an immediate threat following his arrival from Palmeiras in January 2017, but within a few weeks the young Brazilian had taken Aguero's place in the team and been described as "the future of the club" by Pep Guardiola.
For Aguero, the future was suddenly uncertain. The striker had scored 18 goals in 22 appearances in the first half of that season, but for Guardiola it wasn't enough. "To score five goals in two games is a good statistic," he said in August. "But he has to help us. It is not enough to receive the ball from his team-mates. He has to help us in the first pressure and run a lot."
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The message was clear, but it was only after the arrival of Jesus that Aguero began to respond. And while he was fortunate that Jesus suffered his foot injury so soon after his breakthrough, he still had work to do to secure his place for the long term. Could he adapt his game to meet Guardiola's demands? Could he become more than just a goal scorer?
Aguero was already a Manchester City icon approaching his 29th birthday at the time, but it is a testament to his professionalism that he has managed it. In the space of 18 months, he has evolved from elite goal poacher to all-action frontman. Guardiola, no longer bombarded with questions about Aguero's future, now finds himself fielding queries on Jesus instead.
The increase in Aguero's off-the-ball intensity has been one of the most noticeable changes. The 30-year-old is pressing from the front with greater vigour and the numbers prove it. According to Premier League tracking data, he has gone from covering an average of 9km per 90 minutes under Manuel Pellegrini to 10km per 90 minutes under Guardiola.
Aguero has described his fitness as the best it has been in years having undergone a minor knee operation in April, and the recent improvement has not gone unnoticed by his manager. "Since I've been here, I've never seen him like this," Guardiola told Sky Sports in August. "He is in incredible condition. With the ball and without the ball, he is sharp and intelligent."
Aguero has not missed a single Premier League game this season as a result, with Jesus now the one watching on from the sidelines, but his evolution is not just about work-rate and physical fitness. Aguero is bringing more to City with the ball as well as without it.
The Southampton game was a good example. The landmark goal was his standout moment, but there were also two assists. For the first, he showed impressive persistence to rob Cedric Soares in his own box before picking out Raheem Sterling. For the second, he selflessly teed up the Englishman again. Aguero was also involved in the build-up to City's opener.
Aguero is now behind only Sterling, Benjamin Mendy and Ryan Fraser in the Premier League for assists this season with four, meaning he only needs two more to match his total for the whole of the last campaign. The increased output is no coincidence. In the last four seasons, Aguero's chance creation has doubled from one per 90 minutes in 2015/16 to two in the current campaign.
"It's not just that he scores goals," added Guardiola in August. "He creates chances, moves, assists, passes. He never stops."
Aguero is helping Manchester City retain possession, too. The statistics show he is making half as many dribbles per 90 minutes as he was four seasons ago and the pattern is similar in terms of how frequently he is squandering possession. Aguero was dispossessed 3.8 times per 90 minutes back in 2015/16 but that number now stands at just 2.2. His current pass completion rate of 87.4 per cent is the highest it has ever been at City.
Aguero is linking play more effectively than ever, but crucially, the evolution of his all-round game has not come at the cost of goal scoring.
Last season he hit 21 Premier League goals in 25 games at a rate of one every 94 minutes. That rate has risen to a goal every 116 minutes this season, but the underlying numbers suggest he will start catching up soon. Aguero is averaging more shots per 90 minutes (5.7) than ever before.
The numbers add up for Guardiola and they are good news for Aguero too. Having extended his Manchester City contract until 2021 in September, a previously uncertain future is now guaranteed. If recent evidence is anything to go by, it will not be long until he climbs further up that Premier League scoring chart.
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