City have become used to relying on one of the four world-class players who form the spine of their team coming up with the goods at the ideal moment. It has been the basis of their recent success under Roberto Mancini's management and Sheikh Mansour’s investment.
Joe Hart has so often been City’s savior in goal, most recently in Wednesday’s heroic display of goalkeeping, which secured City their first point of the season in Europe against German champions Borussia Dortmund.
Captain Vincent Kompany is an exemplary leader on and off the pitch, and his defensive excellence made City become so hard to beat two seasons ago before they became so difficult to stop last term.
Yaya Toure’s midfield dynamism has turned many losses into draws and draws into wins, as he dominates flagging opponents in the final stages of a game, such as his brace in the final quarter of the game at Newcastle back in May, which was just as key to City’s championship run-in as the win over Manchester United just days previously.
And at the top of the chain, there is Aguero. The little Argentinean’s goal in the 3-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday was not the most memorable he will ever score, but it was highly important.
With City leading thanks to Aleksandar Kolarov’s early free-kick, City were spurning a series of chances to double their lead. Between them, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli had eight shots on goal, all of them off target.
Aguero replaced Balotelli in the 56th minute and, just four minutes later, prodded home City’s second at what felt like a potentially pivotal time in the match. Sunderland—who, along with City and Chelsea, were defending one of the three unbeaten records left in the Premier League—had started the second half with more intent on attacking. There was a real danger of all those missed chances for the champions sparking uncertainty among their players —and not for the first time this season.
But Aguero's goal, after great work down the left from David Silva and Kolarov, allowed him to get ahead of his marker and prod home at the near post and settle City's nerves. James Milner’s late free-kick added gloss to the scoreline, but Aguero’s contribution to the score sheet felt like the most significant one.
In his 34 minutes on the pitch, Aguero managed more touches (29), passes (19) and shots on target (two) than Balotelli did in almost double the time on the field (21, 13 and zero).
It was Aguero’s 25th Premier League goal since joining City for £35 million little more than a year ago; a total of only five players have managed more for the club in the Premier League. Still, that may not come as a surprise when considering their few years spent in the lower leagues and that once, in 2006/07, Joey Barton was the club’s top scorer with six league goals.
As a pure goalscorer, there are few better in Europe than Aguero. Carlos Tevez, his teammate for club and country, may have more muscle and industry, but the former Atletico Madrid man can be relied upon to have his instincts at their sharpest when it is most needed.
Many other fine strikers would have been presented with the chance to seal a victory in stoppage time and simply would've hit the ball hard and low and see what happened. But when Aguero was presented with such an opportunity—against QPR in the final game of last season—he resisted every urge in his body to do that and instead coolly lifted the ball over Paddy Kenny to seal a 3-2 win and with it, the title.
There were other, better performers for City against Sunderland: Kolarov’s goal and assist helped earn him the Man of the Match award; Micah Richards deputised magnificently for the injured Kompany upon his own return from the sidelines; and Silva is playing his way back into something like his most creative form.
However, it was Aguero’s predatory finish from close range which will be the enduring image of a match which secured back-to-back league wins for City for the first time this season.
They continue to struggle in the Champions League after being drawn in the toughest group for the second year running—no other team in that competition has allowed more than the 22 shots on target City have in their opening two matches—while domestic football has been no picnic for them either since they lifted the title.
But when you have a player of Aguero’s calibre at the head of what is arguably the best spine of a team in world football, an upturn in form and results can never be too far away.