Even the best occasionally need a shove in the right direction and it was surely no coincidence that Sergio Aguero’s return to form on Tuesday night followed some positive headlines for his Manchester City strike rival Gabriel Jesus.
Aguero had gone three games without a goal – a drought by his high standards – but there was no danger of him adding a fourth once Pep Guardiola recalled him against Atalanta having sat out Saturday’s win at Crystal Palace, in which Jesus scored.
The Argentine is now 31 and has City’s goalscoring record safely tucked away but he’s still in no mood to relinquish his status as Guardiola’s go-to striker, particularly to a Brazilian.
As well as his undoubted class, what particularly impressed was his perseverance when things started out badly for him and the team.
Guardiola had urged his players on the eve of the game to be more ruthless in front of goal, stating: ‘Teams don’t give you 20 chances in Europe’.
At first, Aguero couldn’t follow the instruction. His shot from the edge of the box was tipped way by Pierluigi Gollini and he then skied an effort from Phil Foden’s cutback. To make matters worse, Atalanta then took a surprise lead from the penalty spot after 28 minutes.
No matter. Aguero hasn’t scored 241 goals for City by giving up, and his equaliser after 34 minutes was a predatory marksman at the top of his game,
Raheem Sterling finished a flowing City move with a dink into the penalty area and Aguero overtook his marker Berat Djimisti to prod the ball home on the volley from six yards.
Four minutes later, Aguero and City had scored again to mark the striker’s 100th appearance in European club competition. Sterling was felled in the box by Andrea Masiello and though Aguero’s penalty record isn’t always perfect, this spot-kick was, low to Golllini’s right.
He probably deserved a hat-trick but Gollini blocked his shot in the second half and Sterling beat him to the treble by ramming in the rebound later in the same attack as City went on to record a handsome 5-1 victory.
Aguero sportingly put his arm around Sterling to ‘congratulate’ him. City’s No 10 was unable to claim the match ball but Gabriel Jesus will realise who is still the main man at the Etihad.