Are Manchester City a one-man team? We’re about to find out

Argentina forward Sergio Aguero suffered a suspected knee ligament injury during his club’s 1-0 Premier League win over Everton, leaving the champions shorn of their talisman

Are Manchester City a one-man team? We're about to find out

Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City are anticipating the news. What they are hoping for, the best case scenario, is that Sergio Aguero will be out until the New Year. If that’s the case then as far as City’s Premier League campaign goes, the timing of the top scorer’s knee ligament injury could have been worse. They are on a roll, earning 16 points from 18, and next to Chelsea in the standings with the summit in sight.

Moreover, City’s next five matches in the league are against Leicester City, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Burnley and the return game against Sunderland. None should trouble City, the Aguero injury notwithstanding. Indeed, he might have even earned a rest against any one of them over a hectic Christmas and New Year schedule. If he’s out any longer than that, however, Arsenal and Chelsea loom into view.

The problem is that before any of those five matches, all of which can reasonably be expected to yield three points, City go to Roma with qualification from their Champions League group uncertain. More so now for the loss of their most important player.

“Of course, it’s a big problem because Sergio was in a very good moment,” Pellegrini said on Saturday. He does not usually put such emphasis on individuals. “He is a decisive player for our team.”

City’s chances of defending their league title were fortified when Chelsea were beaten by Newcastle on Saturday. Their chances at home and in Europe regressed when Aguero grimaced as he hit the cold turf barely a minute into the frosty evening match at home against Everton.

Aguero stumbled clear from a first challenge against Muhamed Besic before taking an awkward step and jarring his knee in the Etihad turf. No way would Pellegrini have swapped, hypothetically speaking, that three-point boost for the loss of Aguero. No pain, no gain.

City have had very little time to cheer this gradual erosion of Chelsea’s Premier League lead; the gap has closed by five points in three matches. The win against a lacklustre Everton, however, has come at monumental cost.

City now face Roma without their talisman; Aguero would surely have gorged hungrily on a depleted backline which gave up another two goals to Sassuolo on Saturday. His place will instead be ceded to Edin Dzeko, no less committed to the City cause but the very definition of an understudy given the way Aguero is playing. David Silva will not be ready either. Stevan Jovetic has a hamstring complaint while Vincent Kompany remains touch and go. City’s spine, at full strength, is formidable. Only Yaya Toure remains of it with Roma on the horizon.

The charge of course is that Manchester City, the richest entity in football, are a one-man team. Well, we are about to find out. Despite furnishing the city’s second team with over €1.2 billion worth of spending since 2009, the Abu Dhabi United Group were still looking at a side which overburdens one player above all others: Sergio Aguero. And just like a weightlifter carrying more than his body can reasonably take, Aguero’s knee buckled.

“It’s impossible to know at this moment how long he will be out,” Pellegrini admitted. “He has a problem with his ligament in his knee but I think tomorrow [Sunday] we’ll know better how serious it is.”

Aguero has scored 19 goals to this point this season; 14 in the league. He has kept them not only in matches but in tournaments to which his hat-trick against Bayern Munich would attest. He is a player who appears to have no obvious weakness when fit, but he spends too much of his time infirm. The issue for City is that they, and no other club in the world, have anyone like him. So much is asked of Aguero, repeatedly, because he is so relentlessly effective.

It was easy and tempting to forget, during this run of form, that he is prone to injury. He has missed about three months worth of football since the start of last season and that included an injury-ravaged World Cup in the summer. Aguero’s career goes in fits and starts. He’s not fit and then he starts. He had a relatively clean season to this point. This is his first injury of it, but it might be the most significant.

He suffered one about the same time last year. He had enough time to come back and fire in seven goals in five matches before having to take more time off. Without him they lost to Chelsea and Barcelona while also dropping points at Norwich.

He cried. That, perhaps, was the best prognosis of Aguero’s injury. His tears said it all. The goals he has scored in recent weeks, to fire City back into contention in the Premier League and the Champions League, must have flashed before his eyes. For now, at least, the great striker is quelled.


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