Sergio Aguero’s next goal will his 200th for Manchester City, but it is the Argentine’s willingness to do much more than just score that has won the confidence of his manager Pep Guardiola.
The Catalan embraced Aguero in a bear hug as he left the pitch having ran himself into the ground in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Chelsea, which edged City to within four wins of the Premier League title.
It was the first time in eight home games Aguero had failed to find the net, but that mattered little to Guardiola, who is now seeing the all-round game from Aguero he demands of his strikers.
“Since we were together here with Sergio, I think the last month, two months is the best Sergio I have seen,” said Guardiola, preparing his team for the visit of Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday.
“Not just scoring goals, but he doesn’t lose one ball.
“He makes a movement for runs in behind, he is the first guy to make a high pressing, to help that second line be more comfortable with the ball.”
Those words contrast sharply with a reportedly frosty relationship between the coach and his star striker during Guardiola’s trophyless first season in the northwest of England.
Aguero, 29, still scored 33 goals in all competitions, more than he ever had for City in a single season, but often found himself on the sidelines in the second half of the season as Guardiola opted instead for Gabriel Jesus.
“But this year, with all we have learned from last year, I think we have learned what he wants — how to play out from the back, the movements, so it makes it much easier on the pitch.”
Aguero has also been aided by injury to Jesus. The Brazilian suffered medial ligament damage to his left knee on January 31 and has only returned with three short cameos off the bench in the past week.
During Jesus’s two-month layoff, Aguero doubled his tally for the season to move onto 30 goals and re-establish himself as City’s number one striker.
The club’s decision not to get involved in a bidding war with local rivals Manchester United for Alexis Sanchez despite long-standing interest, and even though Guardiola had previously worked with the Chilean at Barcelona, was another vote of City’s confidence in their all-time top goalscorer.
That trust is mutual, with Aguero now backing Guardiola as the best coach he has ever had.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches and they all had different thoughts and obviously differing tactics,” said Aguero. “The truth is yes (he’s the best).”
Yet, for all his goals and all he has achieved since arriving in Manchester in 2011, Aguero is still to taste Champions League glory.
City, with the League Cup in their trophy cabinet and the Premier League virtually sewn up, have certainly never been as well-equipped to do so in Aguero’s time.
Guardiola’s team look assured of progress to the quarter-finals at the Etihad, with the luxury of a 4-0 win against their Swiss opponents in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
“If we keep going like this we have a very good chance,” said Aguero.
“The club has invested a lot of money to win the Champions League, so hopefully it is our year.”