Is Sergio Aguero's brilliant Manchester City career about to fizzle out?

Aguero was handed his first league start in four months against West Ham
Is Sergio Aguero's brilliant Manchester City career about to fizzle out?

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero made his first league start in four months in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium.  Picture: Clive Brunskill/PA

Pep Guardiola’s march towards a third title in four years continued against one of the sides that were supposed to be capable of ending a Manchester City unbeaten run that now stands at 27 games, the last 20 of them victories.

This is dominance on an industrial scale that has never been seen before in the Premier League era. Somehow beaten to the title by a staggering 18 points by Liverpool last season, Guardiola has reinvented Manchester City this year to such an extent that, by Saturday, they had built a 22-point lead over Jurgen Klopp’s defending champions.

Put another way, if City go on to add the FA Cup and Carabao Cup to their bulging trophy room this year then, of the 12 domestic trophies that have been decided over the past four campaigns, nine will have been won by Guardiola.

For English football supporters, who may have long mocked Scottish domestic football for the utter dominance of Celtic or Rangers, that is a sobering thought.

Yet, there are obvious challenges on the horizon for the all-conquering City manager, not least to win the Champions League he covets so dearly, and another potential “headache” could be seen making a rare start for City against the Hammers.

Sergio Agüero has long since been guaranteed his place in the City history books, both literally for his prodigious goalscoring feats and figuratively for his general role in helping them become English football’s dominant power over his decade at the club.

However, as time counts down on the 32-year-old’s astonishing City career, it is in danger of ending with a whimper thanks to a year plagued by injury and illness which has, almost implausibly, seen him fail to score a league goal now for 404 days.

Aguero was handed his first league start in four months against West Ham, in a side from which numerous key players were rested, and the results were predictably disappointing prior to the Argentinian being replaced by Gabriel Jesus after the hour.

A replacement for Aguero, whose current contract expires this summer and is expected to be his last, is in the works with the smart money on Borussia Dortmund’s wunderkind Erling Haaland, but in the meantime Guardiola has to handle his star’s exit.

Not that Aguero would ask for sentiment to play a part in Guardiola’s handling of his final games in a City shirt.

“He knows it, he knows it from day one,” said Guardiola. “The guys who play and are rotated .... some players today deserved to play but didn’t play for rest, but from day one all my messages here is that what we have done two hours ago is over.

“Learn from this and the next one. That is not for Sergio, it is for everyone. When I said I give minutes to those in better physical condition and the best in their position, I try to make the decision but then I am unfair to the other.

“This is the most difficult thing for all of us. Sergio today was the best option. Three days ago he played 10-15 minutes and was so sharp and brilliant, and today he played 60 minutes in a really tough game.

“I don’t judge the player just for his personal performance, what happens around him influences whether he plays good or not. Today was a really tough game, so difficult. That’s why it is good news that he played 60 minutes.

“At the end, there will be games that will be tight and difficult and we need Kun. We needs guys who can score a goal and the best guy in those terms is him.

“But he came from one year injured and needs time — as any one player would. That’s why we have to be careful but the best is still to come.

“Fight to win the title, soon we are going to Goodison to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup, we have the second leg of the Champions League here and we are in a good position to fight to the end to be Premier League champions.

“There are many nice things to fight for and everyone has to be ready. After, I get money to make the decisions.” The prospect of Guardiola having money with which “to make the decisions” should send shock waves around his team’s rivals for the foreseeable future.

After all, City made seven changes from their midweek win over Borussia Monchengladbach, had £350m of talent on their bench, and even saw two central defenders Ruben Dias and John Stones score goals, either side of Michail Antonio’s equaliser. Perhaps, with centre-halves in that sort of goal touch, Aguero might not be needed after all.

Even more depressing for any clubs still clinging onto hopes of City collapsing this season, the fixture list now hands Guardiola three successive home games and the chance to have the title all but settled by the March international break.

“The home games are terribly important. And I’m terribly happy,” said Guardiola. “These three games maybe a huge, huge part of our Premier League.

“That’s why we need to get through and try to focus on important games. But the fact that we don’t travel, because we know how difficult it is, like this week going to Budapest and after one day rest a game at 1230.

“Sometimes it’s so important to play these kind of games and being able to win — it’s so important.”

MAN CITY (4-3-3): Ederson 6; Walker 6, Stones 9, Dias 8, Zinchenko 6; De Bruyne 7, Fernandinho 7, Gundogan 6 (Rodri 89); Mahrez 7, Aguero 5 (Jesus 60, 7), Torres 5 (Foden 65, 6).

Subs not used: Sterling, Steffen, Laporte, Silva, Mendy, Cancelo.

WEST HAM (3-4-2-1): Randolph 6; Diop 6, Dawson 7, Cresswell 6; Coufal 7, Soucek 6, Rice 6, Johnson 5 (Benrahma 84); Fornals 6, Lingard 8; Antonio 7 (Bowen 84).

Subs not used: Balbuena, Lanzini, Noble, Martin, Trott, Odubeko.

Referee: M Oliver 7

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