The Lethal Legend vs. The Misfiring Prospect: How Sergio Agüero Got His Groove Back

January, 2017: Manchester City play out a 2-2 draw with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham in a game that Guardiola’s men really deserved to win. City were two goals to the good on the hour mark after quick fire goals from Leroy Sané and Kevin De Bruyne, but the away side clawed back to a draw via Dele Alli and Heung-min Son.

That game may primarily be remembered as two points dropped for City on a cold Manchester’s evening, but it will secondarily be remembered as the day Gabriel Jesus was introduced to the fan base at the Etihad. City looked shocked and didn’t know how to react to Spurs’ equaliser, but the introduction of Brazilian forward Jesus injected a new lease of life into City – the youngster brought pace and excitement to a City side who were struggling to win these sort of games under new boss Guardiola.

Jesus netted a tap-in in the last seconds and sprinted to his left to embrace the Etihad crowd who were screaming with joy, only for his goal to be ruled offside.

The trademark ‘Alo Mae’ celebration was to be put on hold for the time being, but his cameo against Spurs was more than enough to get the City fan base talking.

The next league game, City travelled to the London Stadium to face a tough West Ham side. Gabriel Jesus scored a goal and played a part in two others as City won convincingly by four goals to nil. He then scored a brace in a home victory over Swansea City, the second of which being a 92nd minute winner with his head.

Gabriel Jesus set the league alight in his first month in Manchester. The newspapers in England played on words with ‘Jesus’ as a savior and how he had arrived to save Pep Guardiola’s side from a dismal run of form that saw them fall to outsiders in the title race, as the Brazilian helped City win games they previously would have drew.

Speaking of newspaper headlines, in the months prior to this, the British press created a narrative that Argentinian striker Sergio Agüero was unsettled at the club since the arrival of Pep Guardiola.

The Catalan coach is renowned for having high expectations of his players – he likes his strikers to contribute to the team in more than just the goal department. In his first few months in Manchester, Sergio Agüero was not living up to those demands. Agüero was not a ‘Guardiola striker’, according to said headlines. Instead, Gabriel Jesus was more suited to the system.

For the rest of that season, these statements seemed correct. Jesus was still a teenager, but looked more rounded than his Argentinian counterpart who was already a club legend.

As we know in the modern age especially with social media, fans like to speculate and debate football, often part of this is in the form of a ‘best XI’, or the eleven they would field on the regular if they were the manager of a certain club. Across not just the City supporters base, football fans and journalists started to say that Gabriel Jesus should be City’s first choice striker ahead of Agüero, who would go on to be the clubs record goal-scorer a few months down the line.

It seemed like the beginning of the end for Sergio Agüero’s Manchester City career.

Despite a broken foot injury that pretty much ended Jesus’ first season at the club, the Brazilian bounced back and started the next campaign in fine fettle. From the outset it felt like Agüero was second fiddle and the only chances he got were when Guardiola switched it up and played the duo as a pair.

Jesus played ‘false nine’ in an impressive victory away at Chelsea, as he did in the win at Old Trafford, and for the first months of the season, Agüero was charged with watching from the bench and was told – in a patronizing manner – to learn from his strike partner, despite becoming City’s all time highest scorer in an emphatic win in Naples. The pressing and off the ball movements of Jesus were exemplar for Agüero, who was often criticized for his lack of effort when out of possession.

However, Agüero has bounced back and the tables have turned dramatically in the months since Jesus’ arrival and early form in Manchester that saw him be dubbed City’s number one striker.

For one reason or another, Gabriel Jesus just hasn’t been able to hit the heights of his first half-season. The knee injury at the tail end of last season may be a factor, as may confidence issues following a poor World Cup, or potentially the fact that Jesus’ friends (who moved to Manchester with him) failed to renew their visa’s after returning home to Brazil to spend time with family.

The reason for Jesus’ slump in form is unknown, but maybe it is an upturn in Agüero’s performances more than anything.

Manchester City’s legendary striker penned a new deal last Friday to the delirium of both his coach Guardiola and the City fan base. Should he fulfill his contract, Agüero will have been at the club for ten years.

In fact, Agüero is playing the best football he has in half a decade, looking as sharp as he did when he first burst upon the scene at Atlético Madrid and as clinical as he was on his arrival in England in 2011.

City’s talisman has four goals to his name so far this season, including a hat-trick against Huddersfield, and will probably feel disappointed that he doesn’t have more.

Agüero marked his 300th appearance for the club on Saturday with a goal against Cardiff, which proved to be the important one to unlock a stubborn Neil Warnock defence. That goal took his tally up to 205, with Guardiola full of praise after the 5-0 win.

The Catalan coach said: “He [Agüero] is an authentic legend.”

It has been a seismic turn of fortunes for Agüero who looked on his last legs in Manchester less than a year ago, almost as if the form of Jesus gave him a kick. For the first time in his City career, Agüero was second fiddle and this pressure helped him reach new heights and add new facets to his game.

What happened to the kid who City fans tuned into dodgy streams of Palmeiras games to watch is not clear, but one thing that is known is that Agüero has turned the tables and re-earned his spot as first choice striker at Manchester City.

With his new deal, Agüero has his eyes firmly set on the Premier League all-time goal-scoring charts, forty behind the third highest Andy Cole on 187: if you have watched Agüero over the years, that seems more than capable, especially with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling around him in the free-flowing City side.

He already is a City legend, if not the biggest legend of City’s history, but if his form continues for the rest of his tenure in England, he can cement himself as one of the all time greats of the Premier League era, and put his name alongside Thierry Henry’s as the best foreign striker to grace the English game.

The gap between the two has stretched in the opposite way than most expected twelve months ago, with Agüero now the clear starting striker by some distance. Despite this, it isn’t all doom and gloom for Jesus.

His coach Guardiola said: “In the good moments you have to be stable and in the bad moments you have to say, ‘OK I am here again’, we have to learn from the best athletes in the world. You have to face the new challenges.”

It has been a poor start to the season for Jesus, on the back of a super disappointing World Cup for the man they nicknamed ‘Ó Fenómeno’ after the great Ronaldo. However, at the tender age of 21, Jesus should do what the critics told Agüero to do, and learn from his strike partner.

If the trajectory followed the pattern of Jesus’ first year in Manchester, perhaps City fans would have no Agüero deal to drool over, with the Argentinian moving on from the side he was no longer number one striker at. However, Agüero has turned the tables and has firmly nailed down the starting position, further cementing his name in the clubs history.

By: Lewis Steele

Photo: Getty