Sergio Aguero has been the spearhead of Manchester City’s assault on an unprecedented quadruple but is now expected to be out for up to a month.
Aguero injured his hamstring after opening the scoring in last Wednesday’s midweek victory over Tottenham, so how will City cope without their main man and what does it mean for their formation?
The little Argentine has scored 26 goals this season, and seven in his last five, despite only playing a combined 246 minutes of these games.
The free-scoring blues have notched 115 goals in all competitions thus far, so it may seem that losing a striker for a month is hardly the worst scenario for Manuel Pellegrini.
But the identity of that striker, City’s fixture list and what’s at stake over the next month could make a large dent in Pellegrini’s quest for four trophies.
The Citizens line up against Chelsea tonight, followed by a trip to Norwich, before four home games versus bogey-team Sunderland, a Chelsea rematch in the FA Cup, Barcelona in the Champions League followed by Mark Hughes’ Manchester United-conquering Stoke.
Should City not win five from five, they could find themselves out of the FA Cup, facing the unenviable task of having to get a result at the Camp Nou, as well as playing catch up in the Premier League.
El Kun’s absence poses questions of Pellegrini and his squad because of the importance of the games ahead. The partnership of Aguero and Alvaro Negredo has allowed City to employ a seemingly out-dated 4-4-2, but with their own rules.
The Beauty and the Beast have scored 24 Premier League goals between them and have become more than a handful for defenders who are too familiar to playing against a lone striker.
With David Silva floating inside from the left and Jesus Navas proving he is more than just a wing wizard on the right, the front four can interchange while Fernandindo and Yaya Toure stay rigid. A perfect balance that also works with Samir Nasri as part of the front four.
The system is a favourite of Pellegrini’s, but he may be forced to rethink this month. Playing Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo as a pair does not allow for the same flexibility and may prove difficult with opposition such as Chelsea, and especially Barcelona, who will keep the ball from City’s exposed central pairing.
Though Dzeko and Negredo have both scored in seven games when paired together at some stage in matches, there is an apparent lack of ooze and ease to City’s play in the final third without Aguero’s presence. The runs in behind are missing which usually create the gaps for Silva to play in whoever he chooses.
A change of formation could give City stability against the better team’s but with the opportunity to have the same cutting edge in the final third.
The inclusion of Stevan Jovetic, whose City career has only just taken off, would provide work-rate on the left, as well as vital support for Negredo. With the Montenegrin and Silva off the Beast, Pellegrini should pack the middle with Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and James Milner. The foraging pair of Milner and Fernandinho would make up for Yaya’s laziness, but allow him to be more useful with the ball and maraud forward more often.
Though Aguero as a striker may be irreplaceable, his slot in the team can be accounted for with a slight reshuffle. Pellegrini must decide whether he can outscore his next few opponents without his talisman, or whether some of that attacking plethora must be sacrificed for some control in midfield.
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