The throngs were held back by metal bars. The Stadium of Light had emptied much earlier, when the player they were waiting for had scored. It did not matter that Sergio Aguero’s masterful display had put Sunderland to the sword and his second goal – Manchester City’s fourth – had ended a game in the 71st minute.
Outside the main entrance to the stadium on Wednesday night, crowds gathered. There was a roar, pens, paper and strips, some Argentinian, were waved. There were cries for Sergio. Aguero, ushered by a club steward, was rushed on to the waiting City team bus. The North-east had seen a superstar. It does not happen as much as it used to.
He had been clapped off the field by all four sides of the ground when he was replaced by Frank Lampard. The Argentinian forward had raised the bar once more. Team-mate Pablo Zabaleta had scored a fine goal himself and dedicated it to his unborn child and his wife, who was at the Stadium of Light.
It still could not steal Aguero’s thunder, and the masterclass he had given in dismantling Sunderland.
Chelsea had been visitors to the Stadium of Light four days earlier. Then it had been a fight. Gus Poyet, the Sunderland manager, had parked a bus and Diego Costa could not smash his way through it.
It would belittle much of the flair the current Chelsea contain, in the outstanding Eden Hazard and the drive of Willian, to suggest they do not possess great subtlety.
But in the direct comparison, to break through Sunderland’s manned defences and unlock the gates, Chelsea used a battering ram and City turned to their pickpocket. Costa kicked and rampaged and clashed with people, jumped with arms up and knocked people over.
Do not question Aguero’s power. Look at the online reaction from the Sunderland substitute Jozy Altidore, who almost jumped out of his strip when the equalising goal was smashed past Costel Pantilimon. There had been a first touch that drew a misguided belief from Sebastian Coates that he could get ahead of Aguero. The player went past him. Then scored.
“I like the first goal because when he stopped the ball it was going away from him,” said the City striker Stevan Jovetic. “In the last second he did a nutmeg and scored. For me it is Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and then him, one of the best in the world.”
However, Aguero’s incredible deft use of his right foot to take the pace off a Yaya Touré pass that had been fizzed into him and, in the same movement, touch the ball into the path of Jovetic to put City ahead, just before half-time, was something else. “His assist for me was great,” added Jovetic. “He is on fire, and if he is like this, we can do big things. He does it every game.”
It was easy to overlook the quality of the first-time finish from eight yards for the fourth goal. Aguero was always doing something good.
It felt like a victory for the artist. Sunderland’s early goal should, in theory, have given them something to defend, a platform on which to build. Instead it merely sparked a flame in Aguero that was unextinguishable. He became mesmeric.
Luis Suarez made a charge from the pace, energy and often chaos of English games last season to challenge Ronaldo and Messi as the best player in the world. As Jovetic asserted, it is Aguero’s turn now. He has flourished in a team that appears to believe in the individual as much as the system. There is a different philosophy underpinning the fight to be the champions of England.
“I know how some Einsteins in football like to say that defending is a crime,” the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, had said after his side’s goalless draw at Sunderland. “It is not a crime.”
His City counterpart, Manuel Pellegrini, had said on his arrival in Manchester: “Aesthetics are important. My team does not focus on the opponent. People want to be entertained. Fans come to see things they are not capable of.” They are seeing that every game from Aguero.
It would be harsh to suggest City are a one-man team. He is, however, their talisman. Touré drove from midfield to score 20 goals last season on their way to the crown. Now it is Aguero who is pushing his team-mates to greater heights. With 19 goals already this season – 14 in the Premier League – and 30 goals in his last 33 Premier League games, his form is raising the contributions of those around him; Zabaleta, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas are all flourishing. Team-mates are raising their game with his.
“I have known him for a long time but it is probably the best moment of his whole career,” said Zabaleta. “Everything he does right now looks so quick and sharp and clinical. He is working really hard for the team off the ball and that is also something you have to appreciate from Sergio, because the strikers normally want to play only with the ball.
“Sergio is doing that but he is also working really hard for the team and I think that has been great. Is he the best in the world? Probably he is one of the best strikers in the world at the moment I have no doubt about this. We are very lucky to have him in the team.”
If City are to steal the title away from Chelsea, where it has seemed to be heading all season, their little pickpocket is the man most likely to do the taking.
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