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Sergio Agüero

Premier League Player of the Month, January 2019

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Sergio Agüero set a new Premier League record when, following six goals and an assist in just three appearances in January, he was named the player of the month for a seventh time. His latest run of goals also meant he became the highest-scoring overseas player in the competition’s history; his three during their 6-1 victory over Aston Villa meant that he surpassed Thierry Henry’s 175 goals, and that 12th hat-trick took him clear of Alan Shearer’s previous record of 11.

Beyond those three against Villa, there were two further finishes against Crystal Palace, and another against Sheffield United. The influential Steven Gerrard and Harry Kane had previously been level with Agüero’s six player of the month awards, and the latest was earned ahead of fellow nominees Alisson, Abdoulaye Doucouré, Jack Grealish, Jordan Henderson, Jack Stephens and Ayoze Pérez.

“Henry is one of the most incredible players I have seen in this league and he will be proud that Sergio is the guy that broke his record,” Manchester City’s decorated manager Pep Guardiola recently said. “He was a legend and with Sergio it’s the same. To score this amount of goals as a foreign player and this amount of hat-tricks means you have done, for many years, a lot of good things.”

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Agüero is one of the world’s finest strikers largely because he is so capable of creating such clean shooting opportunities. His sense of timing to lose a marker, and his subtle movements to maximise windows to control possession and shoot, remain his greatest assets.

A penetrative attacker who seeks to advance beyond opposing defences, his movements behind the relevant central defender can contribute to him not being seen, unless forcing the defender to look away from the ball. Whereas other strikers often prioritise withdrawing towards possession, Agüero’s instinct is to be more penetrative.

It is therefore perhaps because of the calibre of footballer he plays alongside at Manchester City that he excels with the consistency he does. That instinct to attempt to finish attacks from beyond an opposing defensive line (below) means that a packed defence challenges the precision and timing of any potential assist. During the final stages of the build-up to an attack, Agüero increases his steps away from his marker to create enhanced spaces to receive from within the final third, and potentially to provide a bigger target for the ball carrier.

The majority of his shots are taken first time and at the earliest opportunity, but when space is created he is capable of taking an additional touch, which is a strength when the attempted assist is not as accurate as hoped or towards the wrong foot to shoot at goal. He demonstrates a similar level of intelligence during wider build-up play, when opposing central defenders are often more focused on their own movements.

If, when the ball is central, defenders often attempt to remain tight to their opponents while blocking the goal, during wider build-ups they are more inclined to withdraw and cover spaces in anticipation of deliveries. Agüero disguises his movement by delaying his run, and therefore pursues space via his positioning (below), instead of traditional movements.

The combination of those movements and his positoning perfectly complements that fine range of finishing. That he is also strong in the air, and can finish with both feet and with power and minimal backlift, makes him a threat capable of catching opponents off-guard before ruthlessly punishing them.

Role at Manchester City
Without the six goals Agüero scored during January, City could easily have four fewer points in the Premier League. Intriguingly, given they will soon again focus on their pursuit of the Champions League, his three against Villa also came within a rarely-seen front two, alongside Gabriel Jesus.

Their partnership created multiple goalscoring opportunities for each, because of the extent to which their movements and positioning provided a dual threat. Against Villa’s back five, Agüero regularly withdrew from his markers in central defence while Jesus made runs beyond them.

The creativity offered by Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva from behind them prevented Villa’s central midfielders from instead prioritising him. Between them, Agüero and Jesus were capable of offering both penetrations and support (below), and ultimately four goals.

At Sheffield United they were confronted with a team defending in a 5-3-2. Agüero replaced Jesus during the second half, and immediately offered the more consistent, penetrative runs that they had lacked, and capitalised on the support being offered in central areas from Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez.

Within City’s 3-4-3, the movements of his teammates invited him to isolate one of the opposing three central defenders, and to offer penetrative movements beyond them. Even against a team with a strong defence, a superb pass from De Bruyne found him, before he provided the winning goal in a 1-0 victory.

In a further fixture, against Crystal Palace, Agüero featured as the lone striker until Jesus’ second-half introduction. With Jesus largely attacking from the left and through the inside channel, they again formed an effective partnership. When Jesus cut inside with possession, the Argentinian moved to attack the blindside of his marker; when Jesus moved inside without it, further movements from their teammates created space for Agüero to attack.

Sergio Agüero

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