This article titled “Sergio Agüero hits fizzing four in Manchester City’s mauling of Leicester” was written by Jamie Jackson at the Etihad Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 10th February 2018 19.35 UTC
Manchester City will fly to Basel for Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 encounter in fine heart due to this impressive win. Their lead is 16 points – until Manchester United play on Sunday, at least – and they need a maximum 20 more for a third Premier League title in six years.
Sergio Agüero gave the latest illustration of his excellence with a second hat-trick in three home games and ended with his count for the club at 197. His third came on 77 minutes and was due to a Kasper Schmeichel mistake that gave the ball to him. Agüero calmly chipped the No 1 to make it 4-1 and that was contest over before he smashed a fourth at the close.
Guardiola made two changes after the draw against Burnley last weekend, dropping Danilo and Vincent Kompany to the bench for Oleksandr Zinchenko and Aymeric Laporte.
Claude Puel decided Ben Chilwell and Matty James should start and that Danny Simpson and Kelechi Iheanacho should be replacements as Riyad Mahrez’s exile ended, the Algerian taking a place on the bench against the team who tried to buy him late last month.
As Manchester City have only ever lost once at home under Guardiola what any opposition does not need is to concede early. Yet after 125 seconds the Foxes did exactly that. This was a goal straight out of the Catalan’s playbook and, inevitably, was created by Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian sliced the ball behind a stricken Leicester defence, it passed Sergio Aguero, and there was Raheem Sterling to poach a 20th of the season. Given his glaring miss that might have sealed all three points at Burnley last time out this was precisely the boost he would have hoped for.
It had the home crowd regaling him with “Raheem Sterling, he’s top of the league” and handed Leicester even more of a challenge. Their natural game of hitting Jamie Vardy on the counterattack has previously caused Manchester City problems but to do that some possession is required.
Here they struggled to retain the ball as the first half approached its midway juncture. It was being constantly ceded which allowed Guardiola’s side to play the lightning-quick game that can be near-impossible to defend. One move had the ball relayed from Sterling to Ilkay Gündogan through to Agüero and suddenly he was clear though could not finish.
Now, though, Leicester gave a warning with their own quick break that pinged the ball between Christian Fuchs, Fousseni Diabaté and Vardy. After Agüero again dallied at the tip of Manchester City’s next break, Leicester equalised.
This was due to a howler from Nicolás Otamendi. The centre-back can be suspect when defending and the misplaced pass he handed Vardy had Guardiola despairing at what might follow. After Zinchenko and Gündogan each tried and failed to slide in the centre-forward raced towards Ederson’s goal and beat him with a sweet right-foot finish for a 14th league strike and four in four outings.
City’s response came via some neat Bernardo Silva footwork that ended with Kaspar Schmeichel palming away his cross-shot and a classy De Bruyne effort that failed to beat the keeper.
The draw at Burnley was a rare recurrence of one of last season’s main problems for Guardiola’s men: a carelessness in front of goal. Here there were further signs of the issue. Kyle Walker took up an excellent position for a cross but spooned this over all his team-mates. Then, De Bruyne found Sterling and though he rounded Schmeichel, he could only hit a flailing Aleksandar Dragovic leg.
Normal finishing service was resumed three minutes into the second half. Yet again it was De Bruyne who made Agüero’s strike after Sterling passed to him. The Belgian’s speed of thought and execution is always a fraction ahead of the game and the way he found the Argentinian from a running, sideways-on position was sublime. This handed Agüero a simple finish and that was goal No 25 for him.
A 26th came moments later and yet again De Bruyne was provider. His pass found Agüero who did the business though Schmeichel will be disappointed the finish went under his body. On 62 minutes Puel made a move. On came Mahrez and Iheanacho for Diabaté and Chilwell.
This was a positive move but Agüero then did exactly what he does best – kill a match with two more to make it 13 in his last 10 appearances.
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