In modern times, whenever somebody mentions Manchester City in conversation, it’s now the norm to instantly think of them as being one of the biggest powerhouses in English football, who boast a plethora of world class talent in their squad. However, it wasn’t always that way.
The 2003/4 Premier League season saw City, coached by Kevin Keegan, finish miles below league expectations in 16th place, whilst also suffering an early exit from the UEFA Cup at the hands of unheralded Polish outfit, Groclin Dyskobolia in the second round on away goals.
A decade later, the Citizens are going into a top-flight campaign expected to seriously challenge for all honours, with any defeat recorded becoming a hot topic to discuss in what is a huge demonstration of how quickly things can change in football.
Backed by Abu Dhabi’s billions, Roberto Mancini morphed City from domestic entertainers into stylish league champions in 2012, with one key signing in particular by the Italian writing his name into folklore after hitting the famous stoppage time winner which earned City the coveted Premier League crown.
Whilst Sky Sports’ Martin Tyler made the renowned goal all the more memorable through his dramatic and edge of your seat commentary, Sergio Agüero’s strike against Queens Park Rangers fired City into prominence, as those watching at the time felt Mancini’s men now had the impetus to kick-on and conquer anybody standing in their way.
But, in a crazy turn of events, not only did the love soon run out between City’s owners and Mancini last season, only a year on from their historic league success, Agüero failed to repeat the heights he previously set in his 30-goal debut season on English soil – despite scoring the winner at Old Trafford on derby day and the decisive header that helped City reach the 2013 FA Cup final.
In Mancini’s exit this summer came Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment as part of the boardroom’s “holistic approach” to transform City not just into winners on a consistent basis, but also Europe’s dominant force within a five-year plan.
And in the first few months of this season, the Chilean, who is held in high regard for his impressive development of previous Spanish minnows Villarreal and Málaga, has so far preserved City’s flair and sparkle, in particular at home, whilst Agüero looks a rejuvenated player under Pellegrini’s brief influence on the club.
Goalscoring Exploits: Agüero 12/13 v Agüero 13/14
Having played most of last season just behind Carlos Tévez, a player who is similar to him in terms of build and style, Agüero is benefitting this season by playing alongside a taller poacher in either Álvaro Negredo, who has so far scored four Premier League goals with 100% of them coming inside the box, or Edin Džeko.
Pellegrini’s due diligence during the summer saw him acquire both Negredo and Jesús Navas from Sevilla, amongst three other signings, in a bid to address weaknesses or scarce areas in the City squad, with Navas’ capture in particular ensuring they now have a lot more width for certain fixtures.
But the new signings are also helping certain players he inherited, such as Fernandinho’s arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk now allows Yaya Touré the licence to affect play in the attacking third more, whilst Negredo’s physique and manner upfront is bringing the best out of Agüero – who has already scored 13 goals in all competitions this season.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Pellegrini on Agüero’s displays at the moment” quotestyle=”style02″] He is a top player. I always talk with Sergio about the fact that he, for me, is one of the five top players in the world. He must try to demonstrate it in every game he plays. He is playing with more intensity when we don’t have the ball and he has a lot of quality to make the difference [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Although just ten games into the season, Agüero’s improvement under Pellegrini has been obvious. The former Atlético Madrid man has scored eight league goals, with three clear-cut chances being converted whilst a goal is currently coming every 85 minutes on average.
Last season, Agüero only scored 12 Premier League goals in 30 appearances, with just seven of those coming from clear-cut chances, meaning if he continues his current form, the 25-year-old will more than surpass his statistics under Mancini in 12/13 – in which he finished the season with a 55% shooting accuracy overall and a goal every 162 minutes.
Things have already improved in the UEFA Champions League for City and Agüero as well, with the striker having scored five goals in four group matches so far this season, compared to just two goals in all six during a dismal experience in club football’s biggest prize last season in which City finished rock bottom of Group D.
Nevertheless, like Pellegrini referred to in his deliberation of Agüero’s early enhancement thus far, the Argentine isn’t just scoring more but his creativity for team-mates and all-round work ethic has especially improved – with the weekend’s 7-0 thrashing of Norwich City being a great exhibit for the 60-year-old’s claim.
The Pellegrini Factor: Is Agüero More Team Orientated Than Ever Before At Manchester City?
Ruthless and elegant at the same time, City knew they needed to bounce back from a disappointing last-gasp defeat to Chelsea against Norwich City and a 7-0 mauling – with Agüero in the thick of it – done just that.
Pellegrini naturally opened the game up on home soil, with Negredo replacing Javi García in the only change from the Chelsea line-up, and City completely dominated the game from start to finish with 92% (711) of their 769 attempted passes being completed, which resulted in 68.3% possession overall.
Agüero was dropped in just behind Negredo, with both Samir Nasri and David Silva also drifting inside from the flanks as extra support for the Spaniard, and besides grabbing a goal in the second-half, his two assists on Saturday just gone means he is now currently joint-top of that specific chart with Everton’s Kevin Mirallas and Arsenal duo Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey with four overall.
Last season, Agüero only managed to make two assists and was involved in a goal for City every 138.6 minutes. In comparison, he has almost created the same amount of clear-cut chances (3) as he did in all of last season (5) so far and is currently being involved in a City goal every 56.6 minutes under Pellegrini’s stewardship.
Even in the 2011/12 season when City claimed their third ever league title, Agüero only conjured up 8 assists in total but as Pellegrini says, there are other aspects of his game that are improving each week besides his class in the attacking third, such as passing and winning the ball back for the team.
Whilst making five ball recoveries against Norwich for example, Agüero also currently has an 81.6% pass completion rate which is slightly better than his 80.3% statistic last season. And although City have already lost three games this season, and Joe Hart’s form in goal has continued to slide, Pellegrini’s signings are making a difference and Agüero is thoroughly reaping the benefits from his tactical acumen.
Even though it’s far too early to be discussing possible title contenders, or even relegation candidates for that matter, in the Premier League this season, it’s not too premature to say that Agüero, at present, is much sharper than what he was last season whilst certain facets of his game are looking stronger than ever under Pellegrini.
Whereas rumours have recently persisted that reigning European champions, Bayern Munich are considering a £40m move for Agüero according to the Daily Mirror, that is no more than a testament to his fine form at the moment but it’s Pellegrini who also deserves early credit for attempting to turn him into a more refined forward, in which he is currently coming up trumps with.