For the last eight matches, Manchester City have been without striker Sergio Aguero, who was suffering from a calf injury. Aguero returned to action against Blackburn in the FA cup on Wednesday, scoring a goal in his first action in a month. City haven’t exactly struggled without Aguero, winning seven and drawing once, but even in a side with as much depth as City, it’s clear that Aguero is irreplaceable.
In Aguero’s absence, City have won all five of their Premier League matches, mostly starting Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo up front. Under manager Manuel Pelligrini, City play with two strikers, and Negredo has started in this role most often (partially by virtue of Aguero’s injury). Negredo has been excellent this season, and his Goals Scored per 90 minutes (GP90) rate of 0.6418 reflects that. Per Ted Knutson at StatsBomb, this rate would put him around the top 20 scorers in Europe if he kept it up. Looking at Negredo’s shots gives us even more information.
Negredo’s shot chart paints the picture of a player whose opportunities mostly come from high-efficiency areas (i.e. closer to the goal). His on target percentage from these positions is better than the league average of around 35%, but not by a great deal. Given that the league average rate is from all positions, you would expect opportunities from the kinds of positions Negredo gets in to be on target at a much higher rate than average. His goal chart below fits his image as a physical target center forward, especially considering that one of the goals from further away was the tame shot against Liverpool that Simon Mignolet whiffed at.
Negredo is certainly a competent striker, and most teams in the Premier League would be grateful to have him as their first choice option. His shot chart compares roughly to Olivier Giroud’s. However, putting him up front with Aguero instead of Dzeko makes a massive difference for City.
If Negredo has been in form this season, then Aguero has been on fire. His GP90 is 1.0483 so far this season, a rate that would easily put him in the “Top 5 in Europe” range (via StatsBomb, again) if he kept it up. His charts compare rather favorably to Negredo and Giroud.
Despite Aguero’s notable uptick in shooting volume over Negredo, his efficiency doesn’t suffer. In fact, Aguero is getting his shots on target at a very high rate, especially closer to the goal and directly in front of it. Last season, Roberto Mancini often fielded Manchester City in a 4-5-1 formation that saw Aguero deployed wide of or directly behind the central striker when he wasn’t filling that role himself. It also forced Mancini to rotate in Dzeko and Carlos Tevez for minutes at striker, which meant Aguero started only 22 of the 32 matches in which he was available for selection. Aguero’s GP90 from last season was 0.5561, which qualifies as “Very Good” but is almost half his rate this season. Under Pelligrini there has been no ambiguity about Aguero’s position or his role. Pelligrini’s 4-4-2 means that Aguero is deployed only as a striker, and when he’s fit he’s a clear first choice to be one of the two players leading the line for City. The result has been Aguero’s relentless volume and efficiency shown in his shot chart. Looking at his shot on target conversion makes an even more compelling case for Aguero’s quality.
This kind of conversion from the sort of volume Aguero is producing is staggering. Perhaps only Luis Suarez could boast more gaudy goal conversion numbers in the EPL. The bottom line is that even with the kind of depth that City have, replacing a player of Aguero’s quality from within the squad is impossible, and getting him back will be a huge boost for City’s already deadly attack. If Aguero keeps up his current form, Manchester City’s defensive inconsistency may be a speed bump on their road to the title.