The street in the sprawling suburbs of Buenos Aires where Sergio Aguero grew up was called Pellegrini. And, as long as Aguero remains fit, then another Pellegrini, the Manchester City manager, will have a very real chance of winning back the League title.
It is not so much Aguero’s brilliance in front of goal that makes him so lethal but his work-rate. City were three up, the game had a dozen minutes remaining, the snow was pelting down and Aguero (right) was chasing a ball down to the corner flag with two Crystal Palace defenders hemming him in.
He fought them for the ball and won a corner. In the first half, lying flat on his back, he had managed to send a shot flashing past Wayne Hennessey’s post.
This felt like the sort of games they used to stage in another part of Manchester when teams would come to Old Trafford, play reasonably well and finish up losing by three or four goals. Crystal Palace, who have not won any of their last five matches, might have gone ahead when Joe Hart saved well from Damien Delaney, pressed hard and then found they had lost the game by half time.
It was an afternoon for gloves and Hennessey would have wanted to burn the ones he wore. After his mistake on Tuesday night ensured Palace would become only the second team to lose to Aston Villa this season, the Welsh international tweeted: “Bad day at the office”.
When Fabian Delph shot from 30 yards, it became a very bad week at the office. The drive was low and saveable but Hennessey did not save it. His manager, Alan Pardew, was not inclined to be charitable. “Wayne made a mistake at Villa, he needed to respond today and he made another mistake,” he said. “The ball is in his court to keep out the other two goalkeepers but I need to see it in training.”
Pardew was playing for Crystal Palace on the last occasion they won in the blue half of Manchester and, four minutes from half-time, the chances of correcting that run disappeared completely.
Aguero let loose another long-range shot, it struck Scott Dann and left Hennessey horribly wrong-footed. It meant Aguero has now scored against every member of the Premier League bar Leicester, who come to the Etihad next month.
This was also City’s third straight clean sheet, although there were times when it hung in the balance. When Hart ran out to clear the ball, it struck James McArthur in the back and Delaney scooped it into the stands. A fine free-kick from Yohan Cabaye was answered by a two-handed save from the England goalkeeper. Fernando’s clearance struck his own defender, Martin Demichelis’s, gloved hand but no penalty was awarded. Aleksandar Kolarov was carried off on a stretcher with a calf injury. Still Palace did not break through.
However, the deeper into the game, the more Manchester City’s firepower began to tell. Their third and Aguero’s second was beautifully worked. A pass from Yaya Touré saw Kevin de Bruyne send the ball back along the Palace six-yard line and Aguero turned in an opportunity that by his standards was unmissable. It was the 64th goalscoring opportunity that De Bruyne had created this season which works out at more than three per match. He had a hand in Manchester City’s fourth, clearing a Palace attack that gave Hennessey the nightmarish sight of seeing Aguero and David Silva streaking towards him. Aguero’s hat-trick beckoned, instead he passed to Silva showing a generosity that does not come naturally to a centre-forward.
Manchester City: (4-2-3-1) Hart; Zabaleta, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov (Clichy, 53); Fernando, Delph; De Bruyne, Iheanacho (Touré, 57), Silva; Aguero (Navas, 85).
Crystal Palace: (4-2-3-1) Hennessey; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souaré; McArthur (Mutch, 80), Ledley; Zaha (Jedinak, 85), Cabaye, Puncheon; Wickham (Chamakh, 66).
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Man of the match: Aguero (Manchester City)
Match rating: 6/10