Are Manchester City Under-Staffed Up Front?

Are Manchester City Under-Staffed Up Front?

When you think Manchester City, you think rich. They are a club with almost unlimited resources and a burning desire to succeed at domestically, as well as in Europe, who also happen to be guided by a superstar manager.  Indeed, when you look at their squad it’s clear that they are literally bursting at the seams with talent.  But all that talent is packed primarily in two areas – midfield and defense.

If you are new to Premier League football and you try to select a Manchester City midfielder on the Fantasy Premier League site, you are spoilt for choice. You see Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, and Ilkay Gundogan – all of them would literally walk into any of the other nineteen first elevens in the league. Add to that list the now forgiven Yaya Toure, who can also be a handful in the middle. There are several other notable names, including Brazilians Fernando and Fernandinho, Nolito, Alex Garcia and Jesus Navas.

Looking at the riches in the midfield department, if you assume that City has the same kind of riches up front then you are in for a shock. FPL lists only two City players as designated forwards – Kun Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho. Aguero has been the first choice among them and has appeared in 12 games for 1008 minutes. In these, he has scored 10 goals (35% of City’s total of 28).

To say that Aguero has been integral to City’s performances this year is not an exaggeration. Despite missing three games due to violent behaviour earlier in the season, he is their top scorer by a mile. Now after his frustrated lunge on David Luiz he is banned for 4 more matches, meaning he will miss trips to Leicester and Hull and also miss home games against Watford and Arsenal.

Iheanacho – A more than adequate replacement?

Any other club with only two designated strikers would suffer if their star striker were to be absent for four matches. But Guardiola’s City are different. Not only are their goalscorers fairly well spread (7 others have scored 18 goals between them), but their immediate replacement for Aguero – Kelechi Iheanacho has been scoring as prolifically as the Argentine.

Iheanacho’s performances during Aguero’s earlier absence included two goals and two assists against Bournemouth and local rivals Manchester United. He has a total of 3 goals and 3 assists in the league in a mere 299 minutes i.e. he scores or creates a goal almost every 50 minutes, while Aguero has a goal (no assists) every 100 minutes.

In plain shooting stats Iheanacho seems to be a good replacement for Aguero as he shoots ~5 times per 90 minutes, like the Argentine. Aguero gets more shots on goal but fewer of those accurate shots are converted to goals. Iheanacho’s shots on goal are fewer but those on target are more likely to find the net. Their shooting patterns outside and inside the box are also very similar, possibly giving a very similar expected goals number.

In fact Iheanacho is a bit better than Aguero in that he creates shooting opportunities, as many times as he scores himself. He assists 3.3 shots every 90 minutes, while Aguero only assists 1.1 shots per 90. Iheanacho is in general more active in the final third with 19.6 pass attempts (13.5 successful), compared to 13.7 attempts for Aguero.

So on the face of it, it doesn’t seem that Iheanacho will face any challenges in replacing Aguero, especially against the defenses of Leicester and Hull. But what if he were to be ruled out through injury or discipline in the upcoming fixture congestion?

Other Options

City are well covered in that aspect as well. While Guardiola has almost always played with Aguero or Iheanacho upfront, his system is not necessarily based on the front man. The style is based on multiple players storming forward and hence his midfielders like Gundogan, Toure, or Fernandinho also have six goals amongst them and his wingers Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito, and Sterling have 9 goals and 11 assists between them.  This general goalscoring quality across the midfield and on the wings should have City covered.

One concern for City, however, is the fact that they are struggling to win at home and a home match against Arsenal without both Aguero and Fernandinho beckons. If they are unable to score as freely as they generally do, and if the other three teams do not drop a lot of points, then City do run the risk of sliding a bit down the table before they meet Liverpool on New Year’s Eve.