Prolific Iheanacho Can Cover for Aguero's Absence at Old Trafford


In what can be regarded as the biggest game of the Premier League campaign so far, Saturday’s Manchester derby will be without one of the league’s star players. Sergio Aguero serves the first of his three-match ban for an elbow on West Ham’s Winston Reid this weekend and misses the trip to Old Trafford as result. It’s a huge blow for Manchester City, of that there is no doubt. Aguero scored 24 league goals last season - only Harry Kane (25) netted more - while no player has bagged more than the Argentine hitman (3) this term. 


Following victory over West Ham prior to the international break, Pep Guardiola is the first Manchester City manager to win his first five competitive fixtures following his appointment, but will face his toughest test yet in Saturday’s early kick off. The Spaniard renews rivalries with Jose Mourinho on his first trip to Old Trafford as City boss, which only adds to the allure of the opening Manchester derby of the season. 


United have also conceded just one goal from the opening three games of the campaign, fewer than any other Premier League team, with Mourinho further solidifying the league’s joint-best defence. The absence of Aguero, who has scored eight goals in nine appearances against United and five of City’s last 10 against the Red Devils, means Mourinho has every right to be confident of keeping the City attack at bay. However, the Argentine’s suspension will open the door for a player that the club hold in extremely high regard. 


Prolific Iheanacho Can Cover for Aguero's Absence at Old Trafford


Following Wilfried Bony’s move to Stoke City, Kelechi Iheanacho is without question City’s second choice striker behind Aguero, though Guardiola has the luxury of being able to call on Raheem Sterling and Nolito to lead the attack if needs must. Iheanacho is a very useful asset in terms of covering for Aguero and means Guardiola won’t have to tinker too much with his system given the pair’s similar approach in attack. 


Iheanacho is arguably one of the hottest striking prospects on the continent. Having made his debut for City last season, the Nigerian has quickly established himself as a caoable understudy to Aguero and while not likely to come into immediate contention for a starting role when all are fit, he is indeed a handy option from the bench. Of players to score five or more goals since the start of last season, Iheanacho is scoring a goal more frequently (one every 96 minutes) than any other Premier League player. One assist in 17 minutes of top-flight action this season is also an encouraging start and the hope now is that he can play a more influential role as he looks to convince Guardiola that he is deserving of further action in the side 


Of course, when Aguero is available, he is the first name on the teamsheet, but Iheanacho is now presented with the ideal opportunity to stengthen his case for a more regular spot. While he failed to have the desired effect during his 76 minutes of starting action in the 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest, that should not be held against the 19-year-old striker given Guardiola fielded a second string side. With the likes of Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in support, the Nigerian star would have the chances routinely created for him to maximise his goalscoring ability. 


Prolific Iheanacho Can Cover for Aguero's Absence at Old Trafford


A conversion rate of 26.7% is behind only Marcus Rashford (31.6%) and Aaron Lennon (27.8%) of those to score five or more goals since the start of last season. Having netted eight goals from 12 shots on target, using the same parameters, his on-target conversion rate (66.7%) is better than any other player. When it comes to hitting the back of the net, Iheanacho is already one of the more consistent strikers in the Premier League, reinforcing the teenager’s statistically calculated WhoScored strength of ‘finishing’.  


Given City rank third for key passes (38) in the Premier League this season, the creative quartet behind the striker in Guardiola’s favoured 4-1-4-1 formation, for the time being that is, are expected to readily present the opportunities for Iheanacho. United have conceded just nine goals in 20 home league games since the start of last season, so if the striker is handed with strong goalscoring chances, he needs to take them or City may be left to rue costly misses. 


If City play to Iheanacho’s strengths, however, then they stand a much stronger chance of a positive result in Saturday’s Manchester derby. Guardiola has previously got the better of Mourinho’s sides in the past and he needs his top performers to pull their weight at Old Trafford if he is to add to his eight wins in 16 meetings with his Portuguese counterpart. Aguero’s suspension may be a blow to City, but Iheanacho now has the opportunity to write himself into City folklore with a match winning performance at Old Trafford and, after scoring a sublime long-range effort for Nigeria against Tanzania, he will be confident of adding to his eight Premier League goals on Saturday.


Can Iheanacho cover for Aguero during his suspension? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below

Prolific Iheanacho Can Cover for Aguero's Absence at Old Trafford