Sergio Aguero will be missing for Manchester City for the next three domestic games and the big question remains: how will Pep Guardiola cope without his top goalscorer?
Most notably: how will City line up against bitter rivals Manchester United in the derby on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) at Old Trafford?
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Aguero, 28, has been City’s top goalscorer in the PL in each of the last five seasons and he scored six goals in his first four games for City this season. Only Wayne Rooney has scored more goals in Manchester derbies than Aguero’s seven and in his last four games against United he’s scored five times.
Yeah, Aguero’s absence is a huge boost for United and a massive headache for Ciy.
After being banned retrospectively by the English FA for throwing an elbow at Winston Reid‘s face during City’s 3-1 win over West Ham United before the international break, Pep has a serious conundrum to solve as he faces his old foe Jose Mourinho for the first time in a Manchester derby.
The obvious option is to start teenager Kelechi Iheanacho in Aguero’s place.
Whenever City have called on the Nigerian youngster he’s delivered and late on in their 4-1 win at Stoke City he looked razor sharp. Iheanacho has been champing at the bit for almost two years now as he’s sat behind Aguero and has waited his time to shine in a team which only plays with one central striker. Iheanacho, like Aguero, has the pace to stretch United’s defense but he can also get involved in link-up play and is capable of slotting wide if Raheem Sterling, Nolito or Kevin De Bruyne find themselves in central areas.
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Speaking of those three, one of Sterling, Nolito of KDB can start up top as a false nine and I think this could be the way Guardiola goes, especially away from home. If he starts Nolito up top and has Sterling and De Bruyne out wide, plus Fernandinho, David Silva and either Fernando or Fabian Delph in central midfield, then it would give City a solid look at would allow them to interchange the front three fluidly. With Guardiola’s style of play, that may suit City best and provide the least amount of confusion in the attacking lines of play.
The third and final option Guardiola may have to replace Aguero is to chuck Leroy Sane in at the deep end (he is used to play a single minute for City after recovering from injury) and play him out wide, plus have Sterling, De Bruyne and Nolito all play up front in a front four. Think of it as a fluid 4-2-4 formation with the full backs pushing up into midfield and the duo of Silva and Fernandinho holding. That idea is radical but the pace of those four would definitely cause all kinds of issues for United’s defense. That said, you’d have to worry about City’s defense coping with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co. at the other end of the pitch.
Yes, Aguero’s absence will be a huge miss for City but Guardiola — quite likely the most heralded coach to ever arrive in the Premier League — has options and there’s no doubting he probably already had multiple contingency plans if they were to miss the Argentine predator for a sustained spell of time.
That time has arrived and it’s time to see if City can negotiate a tricky stretch of PL games without their main goal threat. Over to you, Pep.