Instead, it has allowed City to take a glimpse into the future, allowed Pep Guardiola to flex his tactical muscle and take his side to new heights. At the age of 32, Aguero’s time at the Etihad was bound to come to an end sooner or later. He knew that, and so did Guardiola.
So, naturally, many began to point towards the transfer market- urging City to find a replacement when, in fact, Guardiola’s side had already evolved without the Argentine.
His injury-hit season has forced Guardiola to adapt without a focal point. It has left those at the Etihad with no choice but to enforce a change of ideas and evolve.
Manchester City Already Evolving Without Aguero
An Interchangeable Front Three
Throughout Guardiola’s tenure, the front three was often set. Aguero would lead the line whilst Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, and Bernardo Silva took to the wings. The positions were often set and rarely interchanged- especially Aguero.
But, without a natural number nine to rely on this season, this had to change. Now, we often see the Manchester City front three take a similar approach to Liverpool’s.
Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Mahrez have often featured in the frontline. Yet, most of the time, it becomes hard to nail each of them down to one position. At the start of the game, it may be Sterling leading the line. Then, all of a sudden, Foden will appear, and Sterling will appear at the back post.
The point is, they are now an interchangeable front three almost replicable to that of Liverpool’s. We’ve even seen Guardiola opt to use a false nine on several occasions- stretching back to last season. Kevin De Bruyne has enjoyed this role on occasion; Foden, too.
Against Real Madrid last season, it was De Bruyne who featured in the false nine role. His creativity, hold up play and understanding of a pressing system allows him to play the position with great success.
And, when playing this system, Manchester City have been at their best this season. It has seen them go on a 20-game winning run. When many believed the lengthy absence of Aguero would send them into crisis mode, City and Guardiola began a much-needed period of adaptation.
Many will label Guardiola nothing more than a ‘chequebook manager’, but he has dismissed that notion this campaign by evolving this Manchester City side once more into an unstoppable winning machine.
Goalscorers From Midfield
The system has also allowed others to contribute to the point that, even without De Bruyne, the winning machine does not falter. If the Belgian is unavailable, Ilkay Gundogan steps into his role- arguably producing the same impressive numbers.
In the freedom of the role, Gundogan make runs from deep and becomes the extra man in attack. The opposition are so focused on the interchangeable front three that run is made, it goes unnoticed.
The tactic has worked wonders, too. Gundogan has 13 goals and three assists this season. He has arguably been City’s Player of the Year when, last season, he was almost the forgotten man. Yet, one tactical switch and the German has come to the fore.
And that is where Manchester City have exceeded the Liverpool system. The Reds are so reliant on the front three to produce goals that points are often dropped when they fail to do so.
Manchester City have taken a similar system in the absence of Aguero and added the much-needed cherry on top with a deep-lying goalscorer from midfield.
Many worried about how City would cope when Aguero eventually departs. His lengthy absence has forced Guardiola to complete the evolution early and prepare for the future- perhaps beginning another cycle of City dominance.
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