Former Manchester City and Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips believes Sergio Aguero surpasses Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and his own dad Ian as the Premier League’s most clinical hit-man.
“There is definitely an argument that Sergio Aguero is the Premier League’s best ever striker. If he stays fit all year that ups City’s chances of winning the Premier League and the Champions League. He’s a great finisher and he always fights hard for the team as well. I think Kun can score thirty goals easily this season. Especially in the form that he’s in now, that would be an easy mark for him.”
Expectation of such an abundance of goals is understandable, given that City are already threatening to rip up the record books, with an astonishing 16 goals in their last three league games alone.
“The difference between City now and last year is they are taking the chances they are creating. Last year, they weren’t, and the opposition would score and City found themselves chasing games. City are not conceding many goals and creating maybe double the chances than they did last year. If they keep scoring from those, it’s going to be hard to stop them.”
Much of this, of course, is down to one individual, and it isn’t the Argentine goal-machine. Last term, the knives were out for Pep Guardiola as he struggled to impose his exacting vision onto English football. Wright-Phillips insists the criticism was premature.
“For me, he has proven his critics wrong. He’s now had the time to get the team that he wants, and mould them into his style of play. From the results you can clearly see what is happening.”
What is happening are transformations throughout the squad, not least from Raheem Sterling, a player who could be viewed as Wright-Phillips’ successor as City and England’s go-to speedy winger. The 22 year old’s six goals from four starts reveals a confidence that may have previously been lacking.
“Under Pep, he has improved a lot. Obviously when he was at Liverpool, they were a more direct playing team, while City play a lot more football, so to no longer just play off the shoulder he’s come to learn the game. He has settled in well after a bit of stick he was getting last year and it’s nice to see him bounce back and silence the critics. People don’t understand sometimes how mentally hard it is and he has answered them in the right way; he didn’t go out and do anything silly, but did his talking on the football pitch. Now he’s in the spotlight for all the good things.”
Elsewhere, Belgium midfielder Kevin De Bruyne has received considerable acclaim for his all-action displays and intelligent passing, with many believing he is the fulcrum around which this exciting team thrives. Wright-Phillips, however – who now plays his football in the MLS for Pheonix Rising – pinpoints an ex-team-mate as the one to watch.
“De Bruyne is unbelievable but my favourite player there is still David Silva. I had the privilege of playing with him and training with him. He just makes it impossible to get the ball off him and he sees things three passes ahead. Everywhere I’ve been and everyone I speak to speaks very, very highly of him and about what a great player he is. He’s just as nice off the pitch too.”
This Saturday the Manchester giants head to Stamford Bridge for what will surely be their sternest test yet against the champions and title contenders, Chelsea. Having played there for three years – winning the Premier League in 2006 – the 35 year old still watches their games with keen interest and is unconcerned about the perceived loss of form from their most influential star.
“Hazard will always play the same way. He has played so many games in the past couple of years so it’s only natural that he might have a little dip through tiredness but once he’s back on his feet he’s always going to play the same way, with a style that can’t be defended. He can turn a game on its head on his own.”
Any misgivings about the Blues’ squad depth meanwhile, following a frustrating summer of transfer dealings for manager Antonio Conte, receives short shrift.
“I still think that Chelsea have quite a lot of depth and they remain title challengers. Conte wanted more players but for the team that won the title last season there is not much change and they’ve added Morata who is on fire at the minute. So I don’t think they’re worrying too much.”
Having taken the Premier League by storm with seven goals in seven games Alvaro Morata has already banished Diego Costa to a distant memory for Chelsea fans. Could he now go on to become a striking legend at the Bridge in the same vein as Wright-Phillips’ present team-mate (and co-owner of Phoenix) Didier Drogba?
“I wouldn’t say that Morata is in Didier’s space now but if he keeps scoring and running in behind and creating chances for others then he’s heading in that direction because he does the same things that Didier did. He runs into channels, he creates chances, and he finishes.”
As for this weekend’s clash the 36 cap England international is anticipating open warfare from the visitors with Conte’s men choosing their battles carefully.
“Manchester City are more free-flowing than Chelsea in their passing while Chelsea are more resilient. They’re okay with soaking up pressure and hitting on the break. City like to control games and play more attacking.”
“I haven’t seen that many weaknesses with City but that’s only because they have the ball 80% of the time. But set-pieces need to be concentrated on because Chelsea are not the smallest team and they have very good qualities in that area.”
With allegiances to both clubs it would be unfair to ask who Wright-Phillips will be supporting this Saturday evening, but a clue is offered up when he’s asked how much he’d enjoy playing in this present City side, under the studied gaze of Guardiola.
“It would be a dream. Who wouldn’t enjoy playing in that side especially with how they’re playing right now? Loads of attacking, goals, and it’s just fun with everybody expressing themselves. Players have smiles on their faces.”
Shaun Wright-Phillips quickfire questions
Score prediction for Chelsea v Manchester City
2-1 to City
Who will win the Premier League?
Premier League’s golden boot winner?
Who will win the Champions League?
PSG are going to be the dark horse