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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Manchester City make light of De Bruyne absence with six-star showing against Huddersfield

A hat-trick from Aguero led the way but it was a glowing team performance by the Premier League champions

The finish was exquisite, a mid-air volley backheeled past Ben Hamer. It was artistry and potency in one. Sergio Aguero’s 13th Manchester City hat-trick was completed brilliantly and boldly, clinically and cleverly.

And yet, in a game overflowing with goals, with City’s relentlessly inventive, attacking football reflected by an eventual tally of 32 shots, Aguero’s excellence was only one of a number of encouraging plotlines for them.

Take Aguero’s provider. Benjamin Mendy delivered the cross for their seventh league goal of the embryonic campaign. The buccaneering left-back has played a prominent part in five.

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Read more:

Gallery: Aguero scores hat-trick as Manchester City hit Huddersfield for six

Left-field thinking: Guardiola sees merits in Mendy-Sterling combination

Steve Luckings: Return of Benjamin Mendy feels like a new signing for Man City

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Or the Argentine’s attacking accomplice. There is a theory selection is a straight choice between Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. Pep Guardiola disproved that, pairing them in a 3-5-2 formation. Between them, they scored four times, taking their combined haul in 11 starts together to 20 goals and prompting Guardiola to suggest this system may be reprised against other ultra-defensive sides.

Perhaps most topically, City solved the problem of Kevin de Bruyne’s absence in expected and unexpected fashion. Their answers included his usual sidekick, the elegant, excellent David Silva. But, shorn of their creator in chief, their breakthrough came courtesy of an unusual source. Not the scorer, the irrepressible Aguero, but his supplier. Ederson earned City’s first assist of the season at the Etihad Stadium.

Silva was the conductor of the orchestra, slotting back in with effortless assurance for his season bow. He carried his baby son Mateo, who spent five months in hospital after his birth, on to the pitch beforehand.

"He will never forget the first time he saw his father play football," Guardiola said. Silva senior, he said, was "so motivated". When he departed, he was granted a standing ovation, the applause all the louder after he marked his 250th Premier League appearance with a goal from an inch-perfect free kick that, in other circumstances, De Bruyne might have taken.

Instead, the Belgian had his crutches for company in the crowd. His mantle as the resident long passer went to Ederson with an 86-yard assist; the long ball was the right ball for Guardiola’s short-passing side.

Huddersfield’s attempt at pressing backfired as, with his teammates pushing up, Christopher Schindler was left isolated against Aguero. Ederson found Aguero, who controlled it, jockeyed and chipped Hamer.

"The pass was outstanding," Guardiola said. Significantly, John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho headed to Ederson to celebrate that rarity, a goal created by a goalkeeper.

In a different way, there were others. Aguero’s second came when Hamer spilled Mendy’s low centre. Perhaps the Huddersfield goalkeeper could have done better with Jesus’ strike, following more marauding from Mendy.

"He is so clever to go up and down," added Guardiola. "He is full of energy." The Frenchman threatens to render wingers redundant, and City began with three wide men in reserve. Leroy Sane came off the bench to create City’s sixth goal, inadvertently finished by Terence Kongolo, with a devastating burst.

Aguero, a specialist in preying on the weak, also hit the post. "Three goals a game is OK, I am not going to demand [he is] more clinical," smiled Guardiola, impressed by the forward’s movement and encouraged by his start to the season. "He came back perfect," his manager added.

But City, watched on by the three hat-trick heroes of their 1987 10-1 win over Huddersfield, threatened a repeat scoreline against a side who adopted the blanket defence of a 4-5-1 formation and were still thrashed with ease.

They were missing the pivotal pair of Mathias Jorgensen and Aaron Mooy but their manager David Wagner said: "We had some problems but the truth is the top quality of City."

A lone positive Wagner highlighted was Jon Gorenc Stankovic, who marked his belated Premier League debut by poking in their goal. Injury kept the defender out for the whole of last season. Huddersfield prospered without him. The early indications are that City will cope without De Bruyne still better.