As the 2019/20 season belatedly draws to a close, Sergio Aguero is on the sidelines at Manchester City.
The treatment room is somewhere that the Argentine must feel at home. In his nine years in England, he has spent quite a few spells there.
But whenever he takes to the pitch, he never resembles an injury-hit player.
Aguero looked as sharp as any striker on earth before his season ended, scoring 16 league goals in 24 games, despite turning 32 in June.
But that’s the thing.
At 32, his current knee injury may prove to be the most difficult one to come back from.
In 2018, Yaya Toure left the Etihad. In 2019, it was Vincent Kompany. This year, it will be David Silva.
Maybe in 2021, it will be Aguero’s time.
His contract will expire that summer, although an extension is possible.
But will Manchester City go into 2021/22 with a 33-year-old, with a history of injuries, as their first-choice centre-forward?
As noted by Goal, Aguero has often said that he wishes to return to boyhood club Independiente at some stage before he retires.
Years fly by in football, and before we know it, Aguero’s time at Manchester City will be over.
Look at his time at City. Luis Suarez at Barcelona. Karim Benzema at Real Madrid. Robert Lewandowski at Bayern Munich.
The centre-forward is possibly the most important position in football. Major clubs need a top striker to remain in the team for long periods.
Someone that can deliver goals consistently for at least five years.
When the Argentine leaves, who will be that man for Manchester City?
A change of position for Raheem Sterling
It is much easier to sign a fantastic wide-player than it is to sign a great centre-forward.
Largely, a wingers’ game is based on pace and ability to dribble past people. Hard work can ensure that they also have world-class goal output, as crossing and finishing can be worked on.
Having a striker’s instinct is something that almost always comes naturally.
Being in the right place at the right time. Choosing whether to hold the ball up or to go for goal. Deciding which type of run to make.
These are some of the most difficult techniques to work on and master, meaning that there is often a rarity of true, world-class number 9’s.
World-class strikers under the age of 25 are even harder to come by.
Luckily for Pep Guardiola, he already has somebody with this striker’s instinct at the club, except he rarely gets to show it off.
Raheem Sterling has been a winger for the vast majority of his career. Left or right, he has become one of the very best in the game.
But when you watch him, he looks like the perfect centre-forward.
The vast majority of his goals are what can only be described as “poachers goals”.
These are often one-touch finishes that are made possible by the scorer being in the right place at the right time to either receive a pass or cross or capitalize on a defensive error.
He has the pace to get in behind back lines and the core strength to hold off defenders in tight spaces.
His game is more suited to getting in behind defenders, rather than running at them with the ball.
He has played as the focal point a few times for City but has more experience of playing there from his time at Liverpool.
Perhaps Raheem Sterling will be the long-term striking option if City decide that an investment on a winger would be more appropriate than spending big on a striker.
A megastar young prospect
As mentioned, elite young central-strikers are hard to come by.
There is probably only one striker under the age of 25 that can be described as world-class without much argument, and that is Kylian Mbappe.
He looks set to join Real Madrid when he eventually leaves PSG, so will probably not sign for City.
After that, there is Erling Haaland. While a lack of longevity means that he cannot be classed as an elite forward just yet, he certainly seems on his way.
He may be a realistic target next summer, but would cost a truck-load of cash.
After these four, there is really nobody better than who City already have in their ranks (more on that later).
Players like Lautaro Martinez, Marcus Thuram and Victor Osimhen have great potential but are not guaranteed to become the 25-goal-a-season strikers that big teams need.
It makes little sense to spend big on these when they could sign a more proven winger instead.
Haaland is the best option, but with Financial Fair Play an issue for City, they may not be able to actually make a move for him.
Aguero’s current understudy
The final place to look is to the man who Pep Guardiola lined up for the job three years ago.
The £28.8m signing of Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras was meant to be the beginning of the end for Aguero in Manchester.
The then 19-year-old had established himself as a star of the future in his native Brazil, and City spent big to get him.
He hit the ground running at the Etihad and many expected him to be City’s main striker going into 2018/19.
But Aguero didn’t let up. In fact, he still hasn’t.
Many people do not believe that Jesus is good enough to replace Aguero, as he has not managed to force him out of the first-choice XI in his three-and-a-half-years at the club.
Maybe that is the case, but it isn’t as if Jesus has been up against a regular centre-forward. Aguero is one of the very elite.
This equates to a goal contribution every 89 minutes.
This is an outstanding record on the face of things, but even more impressive when one considers that Jesus does not often get a run of games together.
Then there is the fact that many of these 148 appearances were as a substitute.
Finally, he is still only 23. His output is really quite staggering for a player playing in the Premier League at such a young age.
13 of these goals have been in the Premier League, which is excellent as a second-choice striker.
In fact, he is behind only Mohamed Salah for expected goals in the league, which is even more impressive.
Per Understat, Jesus has an xG of 19.57 this season. This indicates that he gets himself into fantastic scoring zones, but his finishing lets him down.
This would be a worry if he was any older, but because he is so young, it is actually a great sign.
He has the intelligence, he just needs more experience and training.
Gabriel Jesus is one of the best young strikers on earth, no matter what some may believe.
He should prove to be more-than-capable of filling the massive boots of Sergio Aguero.
Why would City spend massive money on someone who may not be better than a player who’s already theirs?