Sergio Aguero is just three goals away from becoming the top scorer in Manchester derby history – but the forward may not even have one more chance to break the record.
With his Manchester City contract expiring at the end of the season and no decision yet on a new deal, Sunday’s Premier League clash with their city rivals at the Etihad Stadium could well be the Argentine’s last chance to surpass Wayne Rooney’s total of 11.
However, after a campaign devastated by injury and disease, it is unlikely to begin, and may not even appear at all.
Even though Pep Guardiola has changed up to seven players game-by-game in recent weeks and Aguero missed out on the midweek victory over Wolves, there is no guarantee that the No.10 will be recalled.
Indeed, the significance of the game – victory would propel City 17 points ahead of United, effectively sealing the title – means Aguero would have to be on the bench again.
It’s a frustrating time for the most prolific player in club history as he tries to regain his fitness without the benefit of regular football.
Aguero suffered muscle injuries sporadically throughout his decade at the Etihad and always needed minutes on the pitch to regain his sharpness.
However, after more than a year marred by long spells on the sidelines, he saw Guardiola’s side face, and then move on, without him.
It has now been over a year since he scored in the Premier League (January 21, 2020) or 90 minutes (February 19, 2020), with Aguero experiencing a string of rotten woes at a critical point in his career.
After a three-month hiatus from football after the Covid-19 outbreak, Aguero suffered a serious knee injury in the second game of “Project Restart”.
A comeback in October after surgery interrupted by hamstring injury and He then had to quarantine himself after close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19 before catching the virus himself.
The city, meanwhile, has improved more and more in the meantime.
Having also been stripped of the services of Aguero’s striker Gabriel Jesus during important parts of the season, Guardiola transformed his squad by playing without an Orthodox center-forward, resulting in a seemingly unstoppable march to a third Premier League title in four years, while at the same time, remain in contention to win both domestic cup competitions, as well as the Champions League.
And their most successful and dynamic football has come with attacking midfielders Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan taking turns playing as a ‘false nine’.
They even shared the role during the games, so it’s interesting that even Jesus varied his playing so he could play a role in that flowing front line.
All of this has left Aguero looking like a strange man since his return to full training. Indeed, he only played 94 minutes during the 21-game winning streak.
His only start, meanwhile, came against West Ham last weekend, when City struggled to secure a 2-1 win and Aguero made a frustrated figure for the time he was in the field.
He even gave the ball away for the goal which led to Michail Antonio’s equalizer and didn’t register any hits of any kind.
It was as revealing as in the midweek victory against wolves, with the game tied at one goal apiece with 10 minutes remaining, Aguero never left the bench to warm up. Instead, Gundogan arrived and City scored three times.
Guardiola insists Aguero still has an important role to play in City’s campaign, with his side chasing an unprecedented quadruple, but the Catalan coach is still ready to continue with a system that has enjoyed spectacular success.
“I still think we need him in this part of the season at the right times because he has special talent and quality,” Guardiola said. “He’s going to help.
“In the end, there will be some close and difficult games, and we will need Kun. We need guys who can score a goal and the best part about it is him. But he came back after a year of absence injured and needs time, just like any player would.
But it is not only the immediate future that is uncertain, Aguero does not yet know where he will play this football next season.
His status as a club legend means he will have every chance of making a new deal and Aguero is said to be open to staying at the Etihad.
However, if he did become available, there would be no shortage of quality contenders, with Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and former club Independiente currently being touted as possible destinations.
City, meanwhile, could be in the attacking market this summer, with Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland among those linked.
Aguero has long established himself as one of the true great forwards of the Premier League era, sitting fourth on the all-time scoring list, and he still believes he has more to offer.
A winner against United on Sunday would certainly be a welcome reminder of how he played such an important role in transferring success from Manchester’s red half to blue half over the past decade.
Of course, a hat-trick would be even better, as it would cement its place in derby history. At this point, however, and after the season he’s had, he would likely settle for a little playing time.