He had, perhaps, the most frightening attacking armoury that English football has ever seen. The strength in depth itself was frightening. So it’s not like Manuel Pellegrini is trying to fashion a treble-winning strike force out of twigs and sellotape.
But given the injuries up top, Manchester City are very grateful that FIFA’s latest intervention into club football has given them an international break to get their heads – and various limbs and muscles – together.
Wilfried Bony will be out for a while with a hamstring injury. But the noises are that Sergio Aguero will be unleashed for the Liverpool game just after the break.
That news either has City fans foaming at the mouth in eccentric happiness, or it has them gasping in disbelief and hoping it’s all paper talk. Aguero’s importance to Manchester City can barely be overstated, and surely his fitness is worth more than three points a season to Manuel Pellegrini. Why, then, would you want to risk his recovery by rushing him back for the Liverpool game when it might risk that? This has happened time and time again with Aguero. It’s all about risk-reward. Rushing him back might gain you a point or two short-term, but it probably costs you much more than that long-term.
So City fans will be hoping that if Aguero is indeed in the starting lineup against Liverpool, it’s not because there’s no one else available.
Yet the criticism of Pellegrini at the moment is that he left himself open to this kind of situation by getting rid of Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic over the summer and not replacing them. Or at least not replacing them with other strikers.
That’s the key. He did replace them. He replaced them with Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne. Surely you’d have to consider that an upgrade?
Pellegrini spent the summer overhauling the squad, turning it into one where he could frequently play with only one striker rather than the two up front he’d gone with for most of the season.
That’s not simply a case of changing personnel, adding one midfielder and bringing in a striker. It’s a case of adding a fluidity to the squad. Not an easy task.
Aguero and Bony give different options in the striker’s role, but the fluidity of the front four gives Pellegrini extra ways in which to make the difference when things aren’t going to plan. Just like now.
Over the past few weeks, in the absence of Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne has gone up front at times. Bony was withdrawn in the Manchester derby (in every possible sense of the word) and De Bruyne moved into a central attacking position. The same thing happened in the home game against Sevilla, where Raheem Sterling was also used in a central role in the first half alongside Bony.
So when Pellegrini was building his squad this summer, letting go of the big strikers he had wasn’t necessarily an imprudent mistake. He seems comfortable with putting De Bruyne up front on his own, actually pushing him up there at the expense of the also-fairly-expensive striker Wilfried Bony.
No manager should be expected to foresee for injuries to three players of the caliber of Bony Silva and Aguero all at once. It’s unfair to blame the manager for that. But Pellegrini should have foreseen some sort of problem there. Aguero has muscles made of chocolate and Wilfried Bony had malaria!
Yet the fact he seems so comfortable playing Sterling and De Bruyne in the striker’s role strikes me as evidence that he saw that as a possibility all along.
The injuries Pellegrini has had to deal with are not ideal, but Pellegrini is far from having to create something out of nothing. He built his own squad knowing its limitation, he made his own bed, and now he has to sleep in it. He’s not working with twigs and sellotape this season.