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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Pep Guardiola backs 199-goal Sergio Aguero to get even better for Manchester City

Manager praises Argentine striker as he nears another landmark ahead of Premier League game at Arsenal

Sergio Aguero has been one of Manchester City's greatest players as he reaches yet another landmark. Paul Ellis / AFP
Sergio Aguero has been one of Manchester City's greatest players as he reaches yet another landmark. Paul Ellis / AFP

Pep Guardiola sounded taken aback by the number. “Wow,” he said.

If others were more familiar with the figure, it nonetheless bears repetition. Sergio Aguero has scored 199 goals for Manchester City. History suggests he will bring up the double century in Thursday's game at the Emirates Stadium.

City’s record scorer has struck in his last five games against Arsenal. Indeed, he has already found the net against them this week, breaking the deadlock in Sunday’s League Cup final victory with a deft lob.

Guardiola has never gone as far as Manuel Pellegrini did when his predecessor branded Aguero the third-finest footballer in the world, but he said the Argentine belongs among its outstanding strikers. “He’s one of the best, of course,” his manager said.

The question of Aguero’s place in the pantheon is a pertinent one. He has already reached 30 goals for the fourth season in a City career that has included the most famous goal in the club’s history.

Aguero's league-clinching goal against Queens Park Rangers in 2012

But he has never been voted into the PFA team of the season, let alone been named the Footballer of the Year. He feels overlooked amid the focus on Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah.

“I think world football recognises what he has done over many years,” Guardiola said. “The best recognition you can have is from his mates and he has it. We are so delighted with what he’s done in [the last] two years.”

Those efforts have been accelerated in the last two months. Aguero has been the most potent player in the English game in 2018, scoring 15 times in all competitions.

He has risen to the responsibility of being City’s sole specialist striker in Gabriel Jesus’s absence and, though the Brazilian made his comeback at Wembley, Aguero is certain to start on Thursday.

Guardiola has not always appeared his biggest fan, but the perfectionist explained: “I’m so demanding because I think he can do better. Not for any other reason. He has to play good to be in the team. The only way to keep going in three competitions is to be like this.”

City have won one competition. They remain in two more. “The most important title of the season by far, is the Premier League, more than the Champions League,” Guardiola said.

If it seems more attainable, he guarded against complacency. City require six wins to be mathematically certain of becoming champions. Their next six fixtures include meetings with four of their closest rivals, plus trips to Stoke City and Everton.

Arsenal were beaten 3-0 at Wembley but only the Manchester clubs have better home records, and Guardiola said: “They are a tough, tough, tough team in the Emirates.”

The City manager, meanwhile, is looking for improvement on Sunday’s display. “The first half was bad,” he elaborated. “We didn’t make good high pressing.”

Raheem Sterling is unlikely to return and Fernandinho is definitely out with the hamstring injury he sustained at Wembley.

It could afford an opening to Yaya Toure, who has played just 89 minutes of Premier League football this season and who has often not even made the bench.

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John McAuley: Aguero has earned the 'legend' status at Man City

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Pep Guardiola, right, has not always appeared Sergio Aguero's biggest fan, but he has an explanation for that. Carl Recine / Reuters
Pep Guardiola, right, has not always appeared Sergio Aguero's biggest fan, but he has an explanation for that. Carl Recine / Reuters

“It depends on him,” Guardiola added enigmatically. “He is training well.”

He was supportive of another whose fortunes have faded, the increasingly beleaguered Arsene Wenger. He can empathise with the Frenchman’s emotions after defeat.

“You feel alone,” he said. “I understand what he feels. What happened can happen to me in the future. I have admiration for what he has done in Arsenal for a long time.”

He urged solidarity within the profession, subtly distinguishing himself from Jose Mourinho, who once branded Wenger a “specialist in failure”.

Guardiola concluded: “I never understand why the managers criticise [each other].”