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How Tottenham Combat Sergio Aguero Will Be Barometer of Their Title Chances

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2016

Tottenham Hotspur finally found ways to stop Sergio Aguero last season. Can they do so again this time round?
Tottenham Hotspur finally found ways to stop Sergio Aguero last season. Can they do so again this time round?JUSTIN TALLIS/Getty Images

Sergio Aguero. Sergio frickin' Aguero.

Unbeknown to him, you suspect the Manchester City striker's name was amended to include an expletive or two by Tottenham Hotspur players regularly tormented by the Argentinian in recent times.

The sight of Aguero celebrating a goal against their club became an unfortunately familiar one for Spurs supporters in recent years.
The sight of Aguero celebrating a goal against their club became an unfortunately familiar one for Spurs supporters in recent years.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Up until the arrivals of Erik Lamela, Federico Fazio and manager Mauricio Pochettino, the cursing may well have included references to his nationality. After the second half of his 10 goals in seven appearances against Tottenham came following the latter's appointment, the boss himself may have taken the lead and offered a few choice Spanish suggestions of his own.

If not anger and frustration, Aguero's often spellbinding performances seem to have prompted terror in the north Londoners. In several humiliating defeats, they certainly played like they had been shocked into a fear-induced stupor.

Then, last season, things changed.

Pochettino's men, a year of his tutelage under their belts, were prepared for Aguero and largely shut him out in a 4-1 win. The best South American on the pitch that day was his international team-mate Lamela, the attacker in sparkling form as he put in the strongest performance of his Spurs career up until then.

Lamela made the difference again in February, setting up Christian Eriksen's winner in a 2-1 victory that boosted the Lilywhites' ultimately unsuccessful title challenge. Compared to his usual standards, Aguero once again was muted.

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The first meeting of the new campaign between Man City and Tottenham is a clash between the Premier League's two remaining unbeaten sides. If Spurs felt they finally got a handle on their Aguero problem last time, his form heading toward his return to White Hart Lane will have reminded them he remains a massive threat.

The 28-year-old has begun life under new boss Pep Guardiola with 11 goals in seven appearances. He might have had more by now too if he had not got himself suspended for three games for elbowing West Ham United's Winston Reid.

Backed by a rejuvenated Raheem Sterling and typically brilliant work from Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva (among others), Aguero is playing like a man making up for lost time after City's disappointing final year with Manuel Pellegrini. His burgeoning working relationship with Guardiola is already earning talk of significant individual accolades for the player (see above).

Either of Spurs or Man City coming out on top will provide a big boost to their momentum heading into the international break. While the outcome will be dependent on much more than Aguero's performance, the past encounters show he is likely to have a say one way or another.

    

Starting How He Means to Go On

The extraordinary thing about Aguero's exploits is they have not come against average Tottenham teams. For instance, Arsenal great Thierry Henry scored several times against them, but, at least initially, the Gunners were facing mid-table opposition.

Aguero regularly dispatched Spurs sides competing for a place in the Champions League spots. After a short period at the turn of the decade when the two clubs were similarly positioned, he was one of the signings who took the north-west club to another level.

His third appearance for Manchester City after arriving from Atletico Madrid came away at Tottenham in August 2011. Harry Redknapp's side were a game behind after their season opener had been postponed because of nationwide riots originating in the local area.

It showed.

Edin Dzeko grabbed the headlines, scoring four times in a 5-1 thrashing by Roberto Mancini's men, but Aguero was making himself known to Spurs defenders who would become unhappily familiar over time. His happiness taking up positions outside of the penalty area contributed to two of his team-mate's goals and created the first of many personally against his new favourite punching bag.

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WyScout

Awareness of his surroundings is such a key component of Aguero's game. As seen above, he deployed it to great effect in this first visit to the capital, lulling the defender Michael Dawson out of position before bursting past him a second time when the centre-back thought he had recovered.

Spurs had more than settled into the season when the return at the Etihad Stadium took place the following February. Both were still in contention for the title, but the home side's 3-2 win dented the visitors' hopes and proved a big moment in their eventual success.

Aguero was lively but did not score. He would put that right in their next meeting.

        

Aguero Leaves a Trail of Defenders and Managers in His Wake

Dawson would fall victim to Aguero again, but he would not be the last Tottenham defender—generally centre-backs—to be made to look amateurish by the centre-forward.

Successive Spurs managerial changes did not help things. The frequent rotations gave the Argentina international fresh meat to sink his teeth into, each new coach preparing insufficiently for the problems he posed.

Spurs' 2-1 away defeat in November 2012 was nowhere near as catastrophic or embarrassing as some that followed. But the failure to heed a year-plus worth of warnings imparted by Aguero in his time in England would prove costly nonetheless, blowing a lead earned by Steven Caulker's earlier header.

Like that first goal against Spurs 14 months previously, it was the combination of positioning and pace that caught them out. Unlike then, they gave him the space to hurt them.

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WyScout

On this occasion, a counter-attack led to midfielder Tom Huddlestone covering nearest to Aguero in the left-back position. The striker pounced as Yaya Toure prodded the ball forward, drove into the box and was then allowed to turn too easily inside by Caulker.

It was probably no coincidence Tottenham's best performance against City between then and 2015-16 came a few months after when Aguero did not play. Unfortunately for them, he would not miss any of the four fixtures to follow that 3-1 upset.

William Gallas, Jan Vertonghen, Younes Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches and Federico Fazio joined Caulker and Dawson in suffering directly or via his efforts thereafter.

The team in general were diabolical in the 6-0 battering on the road in November 2013, but the defence naturally bore the brunt of it. Aguero did not have to worry so much about creating space for himself, Spurs handed it to him as he helped create two and bagged a brace for himself by getting in between a midfield and defence in disarray.

Two of those aforementioned changes in manager followed, with both men who came in enthralled by the talent who led two more dismantling displays of their inherited groups.

Fate intervened to stop Aguero torturing Spurs in January 2014, but they still lost 5-1.
Fate intervened to stop Aguero torturing Spurs in January 2014, but they still lost 5-1.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

"They have top players and they come at you from all angles," Tim Sherwood told Spurs' official website of a 5-1 loss in January 2014 that could have been worse had Aguero, scorer of the opener, not gone off after 45 minutes. "You have to try to find a way to impose yourself on them but they are relentless."

His successor Pochettino glowingly compared his compatriot to Mozart before his first game against City that September, describing his style "like classical music." Four goals later—two from open play, two from the spot—he was firmly a jazz man, and a more reticent one at that.

"I don't want to compare Aguero with some big music anymore, because it was a bad result after the last time," he would go on to say ahead of their most recent clash, his lesson learned.

    

The Response

Aguero scored again versus Tottenham in Pochettino's first year, capping a David Silva-led break to seal a 1-0 win in the spring. It was Manchester City at their best, gliding across the grass as Spurs watched as if frozen by the inevitability of their cutting movement.

Yet the much-improved scoreline and performance did offer some consolation. Spurs held their own and looked a lot more solid.

Evidence of their progression under Pochettino had been building, and the next meeting with City brought the first tangible fulfillment, a surprising but well-deserved 4-1 win.

An inability to stop Aguero previously served as bellwether of Tottenham's inferiority to his team. Their doing so here marked, at last, a greater parity.

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WyScout

Vertonghen was one of those defenders to have been tortured most by him.

Back in the 4-1 defeat of October 2014, Aguero's fourth came when the defender too easily allowed him to cut in from the flank. Here he was alert to almost every run, twist and attempt at deception Aguero tried, including the above chase back on the 16th minute.

Along with the recently signed Toby Alderweireld, full-backs Ben Davies and Kyle Walker, and the protective midfield presences of Dele Alli and Eric Dier, Spurs suffocated the frontman. The clear plan was not to leave anything up to chance and it paid off excellently.

At times the attention on Aguero created space for others like Sterling. But even then the organisation and marshalling of resources ensured someone would swiftly appear to deny a more open shooting opportunity.

The attacking work of Lamela, Harry Kane and others rightly got a lot of credit. However, after several years of watching Manchester City tear the Tottenham defence apart, seeing them stopped meant even more. It showed Pochettino had learned from his own and others not doing enough to address the danger.

Aguero was barely a factor in the second half. Alderweireld made sure his final attempt at goal 84 minutes in was deflected harmlessly to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and the Argentinian was taken off soon after (see below).

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Good or bad for Tottenham, Manchester City and Aguero, all this is in the past now.

With Guardiola preparing a game-plan for Spurs, it would not be a surprise to see his star striker shine. This team will not be so tame as they were last season, they will not allow their hosts a moment's rest.

Tottenham are a group striving to get better, too, though.

Pochettino will know they will be tested more severely at the back than last time. He is almost certainly going to emphasise a reiteration of the same focused approach that worked so well. Anything less could see them exposed and embarrassed again.

Something has to give. This should make for fascinating, potentially brutal viewing.

   

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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