Sergio Agüero’s four goals for Manchester City against Leicester City on Saturday evening brought his tally for the season to 28, with three quarters of that total coming in the Premier League.
The Argentine has outscored Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez and even Neymar at club level this season. He is in a three-horse race with Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah to win the Golden Boot in the Premier League, but whereas the compliments continue to pile up for those two, Aguero seems to have reached his landmark almost silently.
When we talk of players having a good season, Salah’s and Kane’s names come up, as do thos of Agüero’s Manchester City team-mates Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, but away from the Etihad we just haven’t heard the same glowing write-ups for the Premier League’s third-highest scorer.
That may, at least in part, be less down to his present achievements and more to do with what he has done in the past.
Kane’s numbers over the last 12 months have been breathtaking, not to mention unprecedented from an English striker. Sterling has looked like a different player this season, while Salah’s goalscoring form is doubly impressive in the light of the Egyptian’s past struggles in England.
But with Agüero the achievement is almost diluted by the expectation – this is just what he does, right?
This season is the fifth in a row – and sixth for City – in which Agüero has reached 28 goals.
We have always known he is capable of scoring goals, and the question mark has been around his fitness. Yet for a player with his past to reach the total quicker than ever before (one game quicker than in the 2013-14 title-winning season) ought to be a much bigger deal – especially given the manner in which the goals arrived.
Some will call his first goal a mere tap-in, others will praise the quality of pass from De Bruyne, and while both of these things are true to a point, it wouldn’t be a goal without Agüero’s run.
Considering the Belgian’s form this season – the first-time ball beyond six stretching defenders for Raheem Sterling’s opener is evidence enough for his quality – it can be tempting for team-mates and opponents alike to be bamboozled by his quality to the point they’re left on their back foot by an instinct to stand and gawk.
There’s a moment in an episode of The Simpsons where Homer is stood guard watching a mountain of sugar, only to spot an Englishman with a cup of tea and ask him where he got the sugar for the cuppa.
“I nicked it,” he replies, “when you let your guard down for that split second. And I’d do it again.”
It took just one split second of hesitation from Harry Maguire to make room for Agüero, who then proceeded to do it again, and again, and again.
The ‘New Maradona’ tag attached to Agüero as a youngster is understandable, and of course it was only ever going to stick during his marriage to El Diego’s daughter Giannina, but there’s an argument that – along with Carlos Tevez – the Manchester City man is one of the least typically Argentine forwards to represent the national side.
The model of the ball-carrying forward, with its path through from Maradona to Messi via the likes of deeper-lying players such as Pablo Aimar and Andrés d’Alessandro, sees end-product and beauty flow into one another. The same is not true of Agüero, whose opportunism doesn’t care for aesthetics.
Take his second goal, utilising the well-honed technique of – to use its official title – ‘kicking the f*ck out of a football’.
This may be exactly why this season has been so fruitful for City’s top scorer – while he may have been in richer veins of forms in the past, he has never been surrounded by a range of teammates with such complementary qualities.
De Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva each have the quality to take on creative responsibilities on their own or together, while a reborn Sterling and a Leroy Sané more familiar with the Premier League have been able to make the devastating bursts of pace from deep or round the back of defences.
This allows Agüero to stick to his strengths and not waste energy carrying teammates, as he may have done in past incarnations of the Manchester club.
By not needing to worry about covering for weak links, he has been able to take a more single-minded approach and return to making the sort of runs he was making as a young goal-getter with Atlético Madrid.
It’s this sort of front-facing play that makes room for goals like his third, running off the front as if almost expecting a mistake from Kasper Schmeichel, before producing the sort of chipped finish that simply doesn’t exist in the playbook of out-of-form players.
And then we have the fourth goal. The coup de grace.
It’s an unwritten rule of football that goals which bounce down and in off the underside of the crossbar are better than those which do not – let’s call it the Yeboah rule – but this goal feels like even more of a step up after the three close-range finishes which preceded it.
It’s like readying a cherry for an ice cream sundae, dousing it in alcohol, and throwing it on top with one hand while using the other to set it alight, all while blindfolded.
It’s made even better by the curl on the ball being almost unnecessary, as if he has decided to beat Schmeichel with power while simultaneously conducting a plane to fly over and write ‘goal’ in the sky. He might as well have scored two goals in one.
There have been better all-round hat-tricks scored this season, but there can’t be too many to involve so few touches: a first-time finish to put City 2-1 up, two for each of his second and third strikes, and three to get the ball out of his feet and slam in his fourth of the evening.
We might not have seen the mazy dribbles of Salah, or the variety of Kane (all eight of Agüero’s touches for his four goals came with his right foot), and this might be why he has flown under the radar a little more than others.
This is just normal or Agüero. It’s just what he does, and we’ll respond to each of these goals with a nod and a ‘well, obviously’.
Still, we’ve been doing that an awful lot lately, and he surely won’t mind going about his business without any extra pressure.
Scoring 28 goals quietly is a luxury you have to earn, and Sergio Agüero has done just that. With three months of the season to go, he could yet hit heights which even his greatest advocates feared had passed him by for good.
By Tom Victor
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