Un­der the mi­cro­scope

> Scru­ti­nised Aguero still fol­low­ing Messi’s lead

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

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THERE is noth­ing be­tween Ser­gio Aguero and Lionel Messi off the pitch, but in the Cham­pi­ons League, the Manchester City striker con­tin­ues to walk in the Barcelona su­per­star’s shadow.

Aguero was dropped for City’s game at Barcelona on Oct 19 and by the time he came on, as a 79th-minute sub­sti­tute, Messi had set his side en route to a 4-0 win with his 37th ca­reer hat­trick.

Aguero is ex­pected to start when Barcelona visit the Eti­had Sta­dium to­mor­row morn­ing (in Malaysia), hav­ing scored twice in Satur­day’s 4-0 win at West Bromwich Al­bion, but man­ager Pep Guardi­ola re­mains on his case.

“He is part of the his­tory of this club and will be for­ever, but I would like to help him,” said Guardi­ola, who en­joyed stun­ning suc­cess with Messi at Barcelona be­tween 2008 and 2012.

“He can still write the most bril­liant pages in his ca­reer in this club. He’s one of the best, ab­so­lutely. But I want to help him be much, much bet­ter.”

While Guardi­ola is thought to har­bour reser­va­tions about Aguero’s work-rate and over­all con­tri­bu­tion, he be­lieves that “in the box” at least, he is on the same level as Messi.

Aguero and Messi have been close friends since they met while play­ing for Ar­gentina at the 2005 Un­der-20 World Cup in the Nether­lands.

Aguero, then play­ing for In­de­pen­di­ente in his home­land, as­ton­ished his team­mates by ask­ing Messi who he was, hav­ing not recog­nised the bur­geon­ing star of the Barcelona youth team.

But they ended up room­ing to­gether and have been in­ter­na­tional room-mates ever since, Messi pen­ning the fore­word to Aguero’s 2014 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

Aguero is a year Messi’s ju­nior, but in foot­ball terms he was more precocious, mak­ing his In­de­pen­di­ente de­but aged just 15.

The pair be­gan to cross swords reg­u­larly af­ter Aguero joined Atletico Madrid in 2006 and might even have ended up play­ing in the same team. STEVE BRUCE re­mains un­beaten as As­ton Villa man­ager but his side were un­able to get the bet­ter of one of his for­mer clubs Birm­ing­ham City as their Cham­pi­onship match ended 1-1 yes­ter­day.

Bruce, who played for Birm­ing­ham and had a six year stint as man­ager be­fore up­ping sticks in 2007, has thus far guided Villa to two draws and a win since re­plac­ing Roberto di Mat­teo, who was sacked af­ter a poor start to their sec­ond tier cam­paign.

Villa took the lead through an ex­cel­lent header by Gary Gard­ner, in the first derby be­tween the two sides since 2011, but his goal in the first-half was can­celled out by David Davis’ ef­fort with less than 20 min­utes re­main­ing.

Bruce of­fered for­mer fans’ favourite Gabriel Ag­bon­la­hor a chance at re­deem­ing him­self – af­ter his off the field an­tics alien­ated him from the sup­port­ers and the club in their rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle last sea­son – and sent him on late in the sec­ond-half.

The draw sees Birm­ing­ham move above Sh­effield Wed­nes­day into sev­enth spot, 10 points adrift of lead­ers New­cas­tle, whilst Villa are four points above the rel­e­ga­tion zone hav­ing played 15 matches.

New­cas­tle chalked up a sixth suc­ces­sive vic­tory as the Cham­pi­onship lead­ers ce­mented their po­si­tion with a 2-1 win at Pre­ston on Satur­day.

Sec­ond placed Brighton are three points be­hind New­cas­tle af­ter they ham­mered pro­mo­tion ri­vals Nor­wich 5-0.

The Seag­ulls are un­beaten in nine league games thanks to Glenn Mur­ray’s hat-trick and fur­ther goals from Lewis Dunk and An­thony Knock­aert.

Hud­der­s­field, who led the ta­ble for sev­eral weeks, are third af­ter a dis­mal 5-0 de­feat at Ful­ham.

The Ter­ri­ers have now lost three of their last four games and are three points adrift of Brighton. – AFP

For­mer Barcelona sport­ing di­rec­tor An­doni Zu­bizarreta re­vealed ear­lier this year that prior to sign­ing Luis Suarez from Liver­pool in 2014, the club’s num­ber-one tar­get had been Aguero.

Aguero joined City in 2011 and en­tered club folk­lore in his first sea­son by scor­ing the 94thminute goal against Queens Park Rangers on the sea­son’s fi­nal day that gave Roberto Mancini’s men the ti­tle. He has won four ma­jor hon­ours at the Eti­had and his brace at West Brom took him to 149 goals in the club’s colours, lift­ing him past City great Fran­cis Lee.

Though fre­quently in­jured, Aguero has the best min­utes-to­goals ra­tio in the Premier League era and for­mer Eng­land striker Alan Shearer be­lieves he is “the one gen­uine world-class player” in the divi­sion.

But although Aguero is City’s lead­ing scorer in Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion, un­like Messi he has yet to leave an in­deli­ble mark on Europe’s elite tour­na­ment.

Just two of his 23 Cham­pi­ons League goals have been scored in the knock­out phase and he has never gone fur­ther than the semi­fi­nals.

Aguero has hinted that he was scep­ti­cal about the hype sur­round­ing Guardi­ola, telling Ar­gen­tine ra­dio that he asked Messi if the Cata­lan would show him “how to kick the ball bet­ter”.

But if Aguero is to scale the same heights as his in­ter­na­tional room­mate, it is likely to be in his in­ter­ests to keep Guardi­ola on­side.

Guardi­ola, a two-time Cham­pi­ons League-win­ner as a coach, has not al­ways seen eye-to-eye with big-name strik­ers, as Sa­muel Eto’o and Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic can tes­tify.

In ax­ing Joe Hart and Yaya Toure, mean­while, he has demon­strated that he will not show un­due def­er­ence to sta­tus at City.

While Aguero has scored 13 goals in 13 games this sea­son, Guardi­ola has reg­u­larly ex­horted him to “do more”, and there are signs that the penny may have dropped.

Ac­cord­ing to the BBC, the 28-year-old cov­ered 10.2 kilo­me­tres against West Brom, which rep­re­sented a huge leap from last sea­son’s av­er­age of 7.8km.

He may run Messi down yet. – AFP

Hertha Gard­ner

Messi

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