Sergio Aguero injured, has been left out of Manchester City's squad for the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Borussia Dortmund, as the Argentine continues to struggle with injuries in his final months with the club.
Aguero, who has only appeared 15 times in all competitions this season, was left out of the squad that lost to Leeds United on Saturday and has yet to prove his fitness in time to travel to Germany. Aymeric Laporte missed the Premier League leaders' most recent games as well, but he recovered in time.
Aguero's final season with City, where he will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, has been marred by knee problems and a coronavirus diagnosis, but he had played in each of the three Premier League games prior to Saturday's defeat.
In the absence of Sergio Aguero, Pep Guardiola has frequently fielded a team without a designated striker, with Kevin De Bruyne acting as the most advanced of a group of midfielders and wide forwards. That system was enough to earn City a 2-1 victory over Dortmund in the first leg, with Phil Foden scoring late to give City the advantage ahead of the Westfalenstadion clash.
The goal by Marco Reus was City's second in nine Champions League games this season, and the victory at the Etihad Stadium puts the Premier League leaders in a strong position to reach the semifinals for the first time under Pep Guardiola.
"I know we have great players and are capable of going to the semi-finals," Gundogan said of City's mixed record in the Champions League's last eight: "I know we have great players and are capable of going to the semi-finals; we should have been there maybe earlier but we were missing something."
"We made needless individual errors that resulted in goals, and then it became difficult."
Tottenham conceded three goals at home, while Liverpool conceded two, and conceding this many goals in your own stadium is difficult.
"It gives you a comfortable feeling when your defensive line is working well, and I feel like we are much more stable this season, particularly defensively."
A look at the Premier League table reveals a sight that Manchester City supporters aren't used to seeing. Prior to matchday 14, the team was in ninth place, but a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Southampton meant that they could move up to sixth. However, this is of little consolation given that City's main title rivals Liverpool are already eight points ahead of the Blues at the top of the table.
The residents of the city have become accustomed to sitting in and around the table's top.
It has been the case for the past decade, with four league titles and many other Cups to show for it. From the start of each season, the team is normally battling for the league championship. However, this season's success has been hit-or-miss, similar to striker Sergio Aguero's.
Since Pep Guardiola arrived at the Etihad Stadium, the Argentine has not been injury-free for an entire season. However, his current fitness fight is the longest of the entire time. The 32-year-old missed the remainder of the 2019/20 season after having surgery on his injured knee in June. He was supposed to be ready for the start of this season after the previous season was extended due to Covid-19.
He did not recover well enough to play at the start of the season. In City's fourth league game of the season, he made his first appearance. That was against Arsenal in October, and he was instrumental in City's lone goal, which gave them a much-needed victory.
He was forced to leave his next game against West Ham at halftime due to a hamstring injury. It's been a case of start-stop since then. It's been a challenge to keep in shape due to several niggling injuries.
The new source of concern emerged after the frustrating 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion. In preparation for the Southampton game, he was unable to participate in the next two training sessions.
Guardiola was asked if the striker would be in line to face the Saints ahead of the match, and he responded, "I don't know." He couldn't train after the game, he couldn't train yesterday, and he couldn't train today.
“He did very well in training, but I'm not sure how many minutes he'll play against Southampton.
“It's critical that he be able to attend training sessions. Unfortunately, he couldn't do anything about the knee after the game. Regrettably, this is not the case. He worked out today.”
The Argentine could only make the bench at St. Mary's Stadium, as it turned out. Due to Gabriel Jesus' absence, Ferran Torres was once again called upon to step in. However, the Spaniard failed to make an impression in the second half and was substituted.
For the better part of a decade, Aguero has been the go-to guy for goals at the Etihad Stadium. Jesus also has a long way to go in filling the City legend's shoes, despite his best efforts.
What has become apparent in the grand scheme of things is that Aguero's fitness, or lack thereof, is at the heart of the team's goal-scoring woes this season. In each of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, the 32-year-old scored 21 league goals. That happened to be one of Guardiola's most fruitful seasons at the club.
Last season, injuries limited his impact, and the team fell short of expectations set in previous seasons. If his lack of fitness persists, things seem to be getting worse this term.
To put things in perspective, City has converted 30% of its “big chances” in the league this season, according to Opta. Only relegation-threatened Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion, and Burnley have performed worse in this regard in 2020-21.
Guardiola will need to consider other choices right now, as a result of this. It's an idea he's dismissed every time it's been suggested to him. However, the present condition necessitates a solution.
Finally, this could simply be a hint that it's time to move forward. Aguero has served his time and will never be the same player he was five years ago. His age plays a role in his rehabilitation. Although he could return to City for another season, we can't turn back the clock.
Erling Haaland, on the other hand, is waiting for his full fitness while we wait for the Blues to regain their form.
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