Manchester City 1 Everton 1: It is odd to consider that a striker who has scored 11 goals for his club by mid- October might be enduring a confidence crisis. Yet things are not quite right in the world of Sergio Aguero.
In the last week, the striker has failed twice to convert a penalty at a key moment; on Tuesday, he was denied by Paraguay’s Justo Villar as Argentina lost at home in a World Cup qualifier, and on Saturday, Maarten Stekelenburg saved his kick as Everton eked out a point against the odds.
It is the sort of run that can happen even to the best forward, yet Aguero’s tally of four missed penalties this season is not one to be ignored. Ronald Koeman, Everton’s manager, knows it.
“Maybe it is a little bit of a mental question for Aguero, I don’t know, because it is not the first time that he has missed,” Koeman said.
Pep Guardiola, City’s manager, tried to be supportive, though he sounded far from convincing when suggesting that Aguero would remain on penalty duty should one be awarded against Barcelona in the Champions League at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.
“I love the players who have the personality to take the penalties,” Guardiola added. “I love it, I’m sorry. So I will never say to a player who wants to take the penalties: ‘No, I want someone else to take them.’
“He’s intelligent, so if he’s not feeling confident like this, then he will say: ‘I’ll step back and let another guy take the penalty.’”
Not that the Argentinian was the sole culprit on a day when Manchester City enjoyed 72% of the possession and more or less all of the shots at goal, yet only came away with a draw. Aguero’s second penalty failure of the week was City’s second of the afternoon. Having started on the bench after his international exertions, he had watched on towards the end of the first half as Stekelenburg pushed away a Kevin De Bruyne spot-kick.
Koeman described it as Stekelenburg’s “best game ever”. The Dutch goalkeeper, who turned 34 last month, is enjoying an autumn renaissance after a wayward three years. Having fallen by the wayside at Fulham and played only rarely on loan at Monaco, a temporary move to Koeman’s Southampton last season did at least give him regular games until Fraser Forster recovered from injury. When Stekelenburg moved to Goodison Park in July, it was widely expected that he would be the back-up to Joe Hart. However, Hart’s move from City to Everton did not materialise and Stekelenburg has taken his chance.
The two penalty saves made the headlines, but he produced one save that was even better. With the score at 1-1 late in the game, and City pressing for a winner, the Holland international flew to his left to turn a fizzing first-time De Bruyne shot onto the post. The look of open-mouthed shock on the Belgian winger’s face betrayed his admiration for the goalkeeper who had just denied him.
Guardiola could plausibly have put down his team’s frustrations in front of goal to Stekelenburg’s heroics, not to mention those of centre-backs Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka in front of him. It was one of the curiosities of Saturday’s match that Jagielka was superb despite conceding both penalties, the first when his trailing leg caught David Silva, the second when he fouled Aguero.
Of more concern to City’s manager was the fact his team conceded a goal to opponents who had only three shots in the entire match. When Romelu Lukaku powered forward onto Yannick Bolasie’s clever pass and turned Gael Clichy inside out before drilling a shot into the far corner, it was clinical finishing. It was poor City defending, though.
Nolito, just on as a substitute, was every bit as clinical to head City level from David Silva’s cross, eight minutes after Lukaku’s opener and moments after Aguero’s penalty failure. But if an inability to make possession count denied them against Everton, any more sloppy defending is likely to prove far more costly at the Nou Camp this week.
As Koeman put it: “City are strong enough as a team to get a good result in Barcelona. You can score with one chance. But when you play against Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez, if Barcelona get four chances, they will score three times.”
MAN CITY (3-4-2-1):
Bravo 6; Otamendi 6, Stones 6, Clichy 5; Sane 6 (Nolito 70, 7), Fernandinho 7, Gundogan 6 (Kompany 90), Sterling 6; De Bruyne 7, Silva 7; Iheanacho 5 (Aguero 56, 5).
Subs not used:
Caballero, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Fernando.
Stekelenburg 9; Coleman 5, Williams 8, Jagielka 7, Oviedo 5; Barry 7; Bolasie 7 (Mirallas 83), Cleverley 6 (Funes Mori 90), Gueye 6, Deulofeu 4 (McCarthy 57, 6); Lukaku 7.
Subs not used:
Robles, Holgate, Barkley, Valencia.
Michael Oliver – 8
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