Sergio Aguero can prove he still has a Manchester City future during the “best two or three months” of the season, but Pep Guardiola insists he cannot hand out appearances merely to build the striker’s fitness.
It is now 13-and-a-half months since Aguero – fourth on the competition’s all-time scorers list – added to his 180 Premier League goals.
A meniscus injury requiring surgery during Project Restart ended his 2019-20 campaign and further knee soreness, a hamstring injury and a bout of coronavirus have restricted him to a bit-part role this time around.
Aguero started last month’s 2-1 win over West Ham but has been an unused substitute for the other five league games since he shook the effects of COVID-19, including as his team-mates laboured to a 2-0 home defeat against Manchester United on Sunday.
It seemed reasonable to ask, as City’s 21-match winning streak ebbed away, if Aguero was not the man for that situation in the Manchester derby, how frequently is the 32-year-old likely to fit into Guardiola’s plans before his contract expires in June?
Triunfo merecido ante un duro rival. Feliz de seguir sumando minutos y orgulloso de ser parte de este equipo // A well-deserved victory over a tough rival. Happy to rack up minutes and proud to be part of this team #ManCity pic.twitter.com/xPFjQgDIa3
— Sergio Kun Aguero (@aguerosergiokun) February 27, 2021
Aguero has been linked with a switch to Barcelona in the event of him leaving City, with newly-elected Camp Nou president Joan Laporta reportedly keen on uniting him with compatriot and close friend Lionel Messi.
“We have to see what happens at the end of the season,” the City boss said ahead of Wednesday’s league meeting with Southampton. “We cannot forget how long he was out. Now he’s starting to get better.
“I know he needs minutes to get to his best condition, but we are not maybe in the moment to give minutes for [the sake of] minutes because it is the decisive part of the season.
“We’re calm. With the club we are going to speak to his agent about all the situations. We are going to talk at the end of the season. With Fernandinho [who is also out of contract] it is the same.
“Now is coming the best two or three months. We work a lot for our club to be in this position. I don’t want to be distracted, because if I am the players will feel I am distracted. I have to be incredibly focused for the next game.
“Maybe in the international break, I have more time to think about it.”
The sight of Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling wasting clear chances as City scrambled to get back into the game against United offered a reminder that, for all their qualities, this iteration of Guardiola’s table-toppers lacks the cold precision in front of goal that Aguero has often provided over the past decade.
Of players who have scored 30 or more goals for the club since August 2016, only Ilkay Gundogan (53.9 per cent) has a better conversion rate on those opportunities Opta classes as “big chances” than Aguero (51.3), while the Argentina international’s 120 goals overall under Guardiola have helped to establish him as City’s all-time record goalscorer.
“We are not a team in this season to score many, many, many goals. We are not a team where [a few] players for themselves score all the goals. We don’t have this quality,” Guardiola said.
“The quality as a team is to be solid, with our rhythm and not give [opponents] chances. That’s why we were able to make this run.
“When we start to concede against top players we are going to lose.”
Guardiola is unconcerned over the prospect of any lingering derby hangover, having described his squad as being “on fire” during Tuesday’s training session.
“I know the reaction from the training session. I don’t have any doubts,” he added, with City’s lead at the summit still 11 points with 10 Premier League matches to play.
“How I see the team, how they talk between themselves after the United game [about] what they have to do, what they can improve. The team is alive.
“We are going to move forward until the end, knowing that we can win the Premier League and knowing that we can lose the Premier League.
“Last time we played Southampton we were behind them and eight points behind Liverpool. In just three months, look at how it has changed. That is why, focus on the next one.”