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How will Manchester City cope without Sergio Aguero?

There are many factors that could affect the outcome of this weekend's Manchester derby, but who will replace Sergio Aguero is undoubtedly the most important. The Argentine has scored seven goals in eight games against Manchester United and has already netted three times this season (38% of his club's league total).

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have opposing tactical strategies for big games; whilst Mourinho favours a cautious and defensive approach, Guardiola looks to dominate possession. The most famous example of their ideological clash was Inter-Milan's 1-0 defeat to Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final in 2010 - when Mourinho's side progressed on away goals despite holding just 19% possession. He will not quite repeat this model as United manager, but he will still adopt a strategy of retreat and counter.

Man City should dominate possession, leaving them in desperate need of a powerful centre-forward that can find space in a congested penalty area. However, Guardiola has surprised us before with his team selections, and his time in Bayern Munich suggests that he will not necessarily opt for a like-for-like replacement.



Option 1: Kelechi Iheanacho



19-year-old Nigerian forward Kelechi Iheanacho has only had 17 minutes of Premier League football this season; selecting him for such a big game would be a considerable gamble. However, he had the best goals-to-minutes ratio in the division last season and was started against Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League. After the match, Guardiola said "we will need him. Sergio can't play all season and Keli is going to play".

The biggest issue, aside from his age, is that Iheanacho has only really been prolific when playing as part of a 4-4-2. He has rarely featured for City as a lone striker, and against such a strong partnership as Daley Blind and Eric Bailly this is hardly a good time for him to be tested in a new role. His braces last season, against Stoke City and Southampton, came whilst playing alongside Aguero and Wilfried Bony respectively.

Iheanacho is a very intelligent striker who links up well with the supporting playmaker, making him an ideal Guardiola forward long-term. However, such a big derby match could be too much pressure for the youngster, particularly if Mourinho's team play defensively.

If the Nigerian does start, then Raheem Sterling must frequently cut inside to offer close support, and make the overlapping runs of a support striker.


Option 2: Sterling or Nolito as a false nine



Aguero has only scored one goal in his last three games against Mourinho's Chelsea, largely because strikers struggle to make an impact against deep-lying Mourinho teams. His goal came in a 3-0 win when Chelsea held 50.9% of the ball, but he failed to score in either of the two previous games - in which Mourinho's side averaged 42% possession.

Perhaps, then, fielding a traditional striker is not the best form of attack. Guardiola only lost one of 14 matches at Bayern Munich in which Robert Lewandowski was absent, and in most of these instances a false nine was used in his place (usually Mario Gotze or Thomas Muller).

His options for Saturday are Nolito and Raheem Sterling, both of whom have played in this role in the past. Leroy Sane would presumably deputise on the wing in place of one of these two, which could disrupt the flow of their excellent early season form.

Essential to the use of a false nine is ensuring that both wingers underlap, making additional runs ahead of the forward dropping deeper. In theory, the false nine draws the defensive line forwards to create space for such runs, but against a conservative United side it is more likely that this formation would be used simply to ensure even greater control over midfield.


Conclusion




Both of Guardiola's options are risky. Iheanacho's age and inexperience as a lone striker could see him swallowed up by Bailly, but equally using Sterling or Nolito as a false nine could lead to Man City aimlessly recycling possession in the middle third.

But Guardiola always seems to find a way to surprise us, and more often than not comes up with a tactical move that trumps his rival. In eleven matches against Mourinho he has won five, drawn four, and lost two. Man City, meanwhile, have actually averaged more points without Aguero




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