Sergio Aguero rolls back the years as Manchester City close in on title

Pep Guardiola's team ease to victory over Crystal Palace with a second-string side

Sergio Aguero’s most famous Manchester City goal made them champions. If his latest in a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace proves his last, it is fitting if it took them to the brink of the title. It may be secured on Sunday, without City kicking another ball. It will be the fifth of Aguero’s spell at the Etihad Stadium. He will leave in the summer as a man who has irrevocably altered a club.

“That [2012] goal is the best moment in my life,” Aguero said. “I will try to score a goal that's more important, but it's not easy.”

Indeed, City’s greatest goalscorer had gone 16 months without finding the net in the Premier League in open play. He owed his place to Pep Guardiola’s decision to prioritise Tuesday’s rematch with Paris Saint-Germain.

City went almost an hour without registering a legitimate shot on target. Then, in a flash, came a glimpse of the old Aguero, taking one touch to control Benjamin Mendy’s pass. His second was a rasping, rising shot that flew past Vicente Guaita. “I am so happy,” said Aguero.

His manager was more emphatic. “What a goal, what an action, what a player, what a man,” smiled Guardiola. “I am incredibly delighted that he is back and we are going to enjoy the last games with him. He shows with his goal what he has been and what he is.”

It was Aguero’s 258th City goal but, along with a penalty at Fulham, only his second in this season’s Premier League. They soon had a second in 84 seconds, with Ferran Torres securing City’s 19th consecutive away win with their 700th goal under Guardiola.

In a flurry, the understudies had ended Crystal Palace’s valiant resistance; with Raheem Sterling then driving a low shot against the foot of the post, victory could have been more emphatic.

What a goal, what an action, what a player, what a man

Guardiola on Aguero

The very fact that Aguero and Sterling, the two players with most City goals for Guardiola, were in the second-string side underlined how City have evolved this season.

Only Rodri, Joao Cancelo and Ederson stayed in the side who beat PSG on Wednesday as eight changes were made; the Champions League reunion with Mauricio Pochettino’s team and the unfinished business in Europe have now taken precedence.

Initially, City missed their band of benched creative midfielders, though none was needed. Gabriel Jesus had a goal chalked off when the offside Brazilian volleyed in his compatriot Fernandinho’s cross but there was an unusual lack of fluency from a team who, unusually for them, were playing 4-4-2. “We could not play with so much rhythm,” Guardiola said. “But the players that didn’t play in Paris must speak on the grass and they did it perfectly.”

Palace defended in numbers in an exercise in organisation and concentration. “The back four was very good,” said Roy Hodgson. “You have to work so hard to keep them at bay.”

Both Aguero and Sterling were crowded out in the box. Scott Dann headed off his own line to deny Sterling an open goal. But City improved after the break and Palace had cause to rue missed chances.

A wasteful Christian Benteke glanced a header wide and was denied by Ederson, who sprawled to make a terrific save from a close-range shot. The chance was fashioned by the right-sided combination of Joel Ward and the recalled Andros Townsend; two of the phalanx of Palace players whose contracts expire in the summer had an incentive to impress.

But then Aguero struck. “The first goal is a fantastic pass and shot,” said Hodgson. Then, found by Sterling, Torres curled in a shot that went through Cheikhou Kouyate’s legs. Cancelo came close to a third in spectacular style as did an increasingly rampant Sterling and Aguero.

City, too, are flying. Fourteenth in November, they will be champions with four games to go if Liverpool beat Manchester United. “I will take a look,” said Guardiola casually. But, really, the title is decided. “The Premier League is already there,” he said.

Updated: May 1, 2021 06:41 PM

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