The striker returns against Liverpool on Saturday night after a four-match suspension, though any hopes that he might galvanise the away side’s attack should be tempered by the knowledge that he has failed to score in all seven of his previous visits, five for City and two for Atlético Madrid. City have won only once at Anfield in the past three decades, back in 2003 when Nicolas Anelka scored both their goals.
All that was pre-Pep Guardiola, however, and City’s new manager is upbeat about the present, if not the past. “We are going to try and change that statistic,” he said. “We know it is always difficult there, most teams find it tough, not just Manchester City. You have to try and match their intensity.” And Agüero will make a difference, Guardiola insists. “We have done quite well without him, we have produced some good performances apart from the one at Leicester. But he’s our best striker, so of course he is important for us.
“Can you imagine all the other teams in the Premier League playing without their best striker for seven games in the first half of the season? It would be tough for them, like it was tough for us. But we are still only one point behind Liverpool. At Anfield we finish the first half of the season. Hopefully in the second leg Sergio can play all the games.”
That will depend on how well Agüero keeps his temper under provocation, now that he has already served a couple of bans, and the same applies to Raheem Sterling, who is bound to be singled out for special attention by the crowd after the manner in which he departed Anfield. Guardiola knows what to expect. “It is difficult when the crowd is not on your side but Raheem will have to deal with it,” the City manager said. “We are going to try and handle the situation but obviously he must keep a focus on what he has to do himself, that’s the only way he can handle it and it will form part of his growth and help him become a better player.”
Sterling has looked an improved player this season, even if his level dropped a little a month or so ago. “We must remember how young he still is,” Guardiola said. “In the first part of the season he was our key player up front. Then around a month ago he was a little bit down, he was no longer showing the same aggression, but in the last two or three games he has come back and we need that.
“We need his one on ones, his attacking with the ball. He still has to learn to read the game a little bit more, when to play one or two touches, when to go, when to try a dribble, but that is all part of the learning process.
“Raheem has talent and he’s a fighter. We are delighted at what he has shown so far and in the last few games he has been decisive. He scored a goal against Arsenal and won us a penalty against Hull when the game was tough.”
John Stones is back in contention for City but in addition to long-term absentee Ilkay Gündogan, the visitors have Leroy Sané and Vincent Kompany still requiring treatment.
Guardiola has some idea of what to expect at Anfield having been there with Barcelona and having joined the crowd to refresh his memory with the match against Stoke City earlier in the week, though he says it is only one of several atmospheric grounds in England.
“There can be a special atmosphere, but I think you can say the same about White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and perhaps a few other grounds in the Premier League,” he said. “One of the good things about coming to a new country is that there a lot of new things to discover, and taking Manchester City to Anfield is one of them.”
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