Sergio Agüero joined Manchester City from Atletico Madrid for the 2011-2012 season for around 40 million Euros. He came as part of a big investment plan by the Abu Dhabi United Group, private equity owned by Sheikh Mansour that acquired the team in 2008, to grow and raise the team to a competitive level, after not being able to win the Premier League title since the 1967-1968 season.
After 230 games and 100 goals for the Spanish team, “Kun” Agüero was the chosen one to help the attacking side of the Noisy Neighbours, as once Sir Alex Ferguson called the team. But the job was not easy for Sergio, as the team had in the squad well-known forwards as Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, among others.
Fast forward seven years and Agüero has played 307 games and scored 210 times, raising as the all-time top scorer for Manchester City, although still far from the record-260 goals scored by Alan Shearer as all-time high in the Premier League, having scored 151 goals in 218 games as of November 21, 2018. Although Agüero is ranked 8th in the Premier League’s top scorer ranking, the Argentine has the best goals-per-game ratio of all the top-10 players, with an incredible 0.69 goals per game, showing not only his ability to score but his consistency during his tenure at Manchester City.
Since he arrived, only in two of the seven seasons he scored less than 20 goals in the Premier League, and in only one he scored less than 15 goals. And currently, in the 2017-2018 season, he keeps showing good stats compared to other peers, according to Squawka.
It is hard to narrow to a specific set of tactical qualities to explain Agüero’s success at Manchester City, especially considering he has been under the leadership of different coaches: Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and lately Pep Guardiola, all of them with different playing styles. But surely there are some physical, technical, mental and tactical characteristics that put together can help us understand the extended outperformance of the Argentine striker in England.
WHAT TYPE OF STRIKER IS SERGIO AGÜERO?
It is hard to place Agüero as a specific type of striker when he is able to play in such different roles in that position. He has a mix of abilities that put him as very versatile player and that is actually far from what you usually see in South America, where players tend to be more specialized in certain areas and less trained as more complete athletes.
Mentally, Agüero is not the common South American. While countries in that continent are consistently producing high-quality players, especially technically, if there is something they usually lack or are way behind their European friends is on the mental side. The common and lightly accepted premise that South Americans are more passionate than Europeans is a frequently-used excuse to justify their bad behaviour during games and training, their continued arguments with referees and rivals and their lack of consistent concentration during games.
Since Agüero joined Manchester City he has been shown a red card only once in official games and has just been booked only 30 times in 307 games, that is a yellow card every 10.2 games, better than Lionel Messi at Barcelona with a yellow card every 10.3 games or Alexis Sanchez booked every 6.7 games.
In a position, similar to the other two aforementioned strikers, where you are in close contact with defenders, usually grabbed, pushed, hit, etc., having a cool head not to react and self-control is key to harming your team with a red card or condition your behaviour because of a booking. Arguably referees are less strict in the Premier League, but still Sanchez has been booked every 7.8 games considering only games at Arsenal and Manchester United, or Carlos Tevez was booked every 8.1 games when played at Manchester City and United, and West Ham United.
Physical abilities should be linked with his technical aspects, as both analysed together define more accurately the style of striker you are looking at. Aguëro is not tall at all, 1.73m, and at an initial glance doesn’t look strong, he weights around 70kg. But having played as centre-forward for several years at City, he does two relevant tactical movements required when playing in reduced spaces and surrounded by rivals: he uses his body, and especially his arms so well, that defenders are usually kept too far from reaching the ball from Agüero’s feet, allowing him to participate both in the build-up phase and the offensive phase.
When playing facing back to his own teammates, he has that key capacity of holding possession for those few key seconds that allows the team to progress forward, creating free spaces and positioning themselves closer to the opposition goal. Several times after holding the ball and rivals, he then passes it back to a teammate to continue with the build-up phase.
Even though it may seem like a simple movement, tactically it means a lot for the team, because as the rivals focus on Agüero holding possession the rest of team is positioning offensively while losing markers and especially opening spaces for the rest, as seen in the picture below. Is also worth mentioning that when under heavy pressure the technical ability to receive and control the ball, and then pass it precisely is key, as a missed pass can produce a dangerous counter-attack by rivals.
As Marcelo Bielsa once said, he has identified five ways of losing your marker, the first one being a quick movement losing him and then turning. In the case of him, he sometimes receives, holds the ball and passes back or wide, or sometimes he turns as Bielsa mentions. Even when he is not able to free himself from the marker, he has the ability to use his body to turn around with the ball without letting his marker to move and position himself in between him and his own goal.
He also has the ability to understand how the offensive situation is shaping up moving wide or backward to open those spaces for his teammates. This usually has relevant negative consequences for rival teams because this movement, when successful, means either he has free space to get to the goal area, and he has the technical ability to run with ball under tight control, or forces another defender to leave his position to cover the defender left behind, and opening spaces for other teammates in the attack. Also, when playing long passes, something not that common under Guardiola, he has a great combination of speed and strength that allows him to win the position and keep possession, finishing either in a goal chance or creating spaces for the rest of the team.
Finally, his only presence is a cause of extra carefulness for rivals and that is something that usually benefits his teammates, as sometimes that takes the attention out of them into Agüero letting them with more spaces, as seen in the picture below against Tottenham Hotspur. Look how every rival is focused on him without seeing what other Manchester City players are doing.
In my opinion, the biggest strength of Agüero is how he benefits his teammates with his way of playing and moving with and without the ball. He is a collective-minded striker, that with his smart positioning is usually making his teammates’ lives easier, by dragging rivals, opening up spaces, and of course by his strength and great scoring abilities. You may notice that the article doesn’t go deep into his finishing abilities and how consistent he is at scoring. That is because stats are there, and it is hard to argue against that, and the focus was placed in his tactical abilities with and without the ball in a collective approach.
As Guardiola has said before, his role is to help the team get the ball closer to the rivals’ goal area, and then everything depends on the individual capabilities of his players to score. The analysis here is on that first step, get the ball closer, because when it gets there, you know Agüero will do his job.