EPL

AGUEROOOOOO!!! The anatomy of the Premier League's most dramatic moment, on its 10-year anniversary

By Sports Desk May 13, 2022

A little over two minutes before the moment that will forever define his career, Manchester City hero Sergio Aguero showed sharpness in the QPR goalmouth that would not have been out of place at Old Trafford.

Old Trafford cricket ground that is, just down the road from City's bitter rivals Manchester United and their home of the same name.

As Edin Dzeko's equaliser from David Silva's right-wing corner bounced back off the netting, Aguero pounced, snaffling it like a short-leg fielder and darting back to the centre circle for City's final tilt at the improbable. It was 2-2, the Premier League title could still be won.

There was certainly nothing wrong with striker Aguero's movement after Joey Barton brazenly tried to dead leg him – one of many surreal and key incidents that fed into a frenzied and famous race against the clock on May 13, 2012.

Ten years on, as a statue of Aguero is revealed, this is a reminder of the special moment that brought City their first top-flight league title in 44 years.

The whole story is now as well-worn as any in football history.

On the cusp of a first top-flight title for 44 years, Robert Mancini's Manchester City faced relegation-threatened QPR on the final day of the season. In their previous 18 Premier League home matches that season, they had won 17 and drawn the other – the most recent of those being a 1-0 win over United that tipped a titanic Mancunian tussle back towards the blue side of town.

City simply needed to match United's result at Sunderland and led 1-0 at the interval thanks to Pablo Zabaleta, only for second-half goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie to turn the contest on its head.

It remained 2-1 heading into stoppage time despite QPR operating with 10 men. City youth product Barton was dismissed for tussling with Carlos Tevez and responded to Mike Dean's red card by thumping his knee into Aguero's thigh before aiming a headbutt at Vincent Kompany. Fireworks enthusiast Mario Balotelli poured some petrol on this particular bonfire by confronting the combustible Barton as he stomped towards the tunnel.

Aside from that significant blemish, QPR's discipline was impeccable. Despite ceding 81.3 possession overall and 84.1 per cent during the second half, they only made seven fouls. Stoppages were infrequent as City thrashed and flailed with increasing desperation and diminishing artistry around the opposition penalty area.

Without Barton's meltdown, there is little chance five minutes of stoppage time - or the three minutes and 20 seconds they ultimately required - would have been signalled. It was time City desperately needed and time they could put to good use with their top scorer's fast-twitch fibres bristling.

Barton was not the only QPR man with City connections. His team-mates Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha had also graduated through Jim Cassell's Platt Lane youth system, while Rangers boss Mark Hughes was Mancini's immediate predecessor, having been axed shortly before Christmas in 2009.

Hughes, of course, also played for United with distinction across two spells, and those loyalties struck a chord as news came through Bolton Wanderers had failed to beat Stoke City, meaning the Londoners were safe irrespective of the outcome at the Etihad Stadium.

"[City] got back on level terms and I always remember, at that point, I knew we were safe because the other result came in," Hughes told the Coaches Voice in 2020.

"I'm thinking, 'I wouldn't mind United winning, if I'm honest'. It's 2-2 and Jay Bothroyd looked over, asking what we wanted them to do [from the restart]. The players understood the [Bolton] game was over and we'd stayed up. We just said kick it as far as you can, right in the corner and the game's over."

Hughes' recollections from that point credit City with a poise they absolutely lacked. Rarely can a team have scored twice in this space of two minutes and – save for a crucial few seconds – played so shambolically.

Bothroyd's hoof found touch and scampering Joe Hart ran out of his goal to take the throw-in. The England goalkeeper almost missed the pitch.

Gael Clichy carried the ball down the flank, only for his attempted cross to turn into a block tackle with Mackie. Samir Nasri's aimless, floated effort that followed did little more than give Clint Hill a ninth successful clearance of the afternoon.

Nasri then excelled himself by shepherding the ball out for a QPR throw-in. Just 40 seconds before that explosion of ecstasy there was fury and anguish in the stands. Aguero watched it all from roughly the QPR penalty spot. Apparently he'd seen quite enough.

Aguero honed his lethal skills playing against bigger boys in Buenos Aires on the neighbourhood potrero – the hard gravel and mud neighbourhood pitches that football purists in Argentina bemoan are a diminishing presence.

"When you play you have to think fast. Who to take on, who not," Aguero said when recalling those days in a 2018 documentary for City's in-house television channel. "You know who is going to play dirty, who isn't.

"You start to realise what you can do on the pitch and what you can't."

Reflecting further in the 2019 book 'Pep's City' by Pol Ballus and Lu Martin, he further explained the proving ground that readied him for Barton and others.

"Getting kicked black and blue was all part of the game," he said. "You held on to the ball any way you could.

"Running with the ball was a whole different concept for us. I'd be up against big, tough boys and I was always the smallest. But I learned how to survive."

Aguero remembered those matches were played for the prize of a peso, which would garner one of his favourite sweet treats, an alfajor or dulce de leche.

As United's players took in full-time and three points at the Stadium of Light, and Nigel de Jong brought the ball forward in Manchester to the soundtrack of QPR celebrations – their fans aware of Bolton's fate – the stakes were somewhat higher.

Vacating his spot in a penalty area already crowded by substitutes Dzeko and Balotelli, along with a marauding Kompany, Aguero took possession from De Jong 30 yards from goal.

He faced up to a compact QPR back four, with the visitors' four midfielders all in his immediate vicinity.

A shuffling touch to his left engineered space outside Shaun Derry, but Aguero needed help. Ideally from someone reliable, given the complete lack of any margin for error.

Balotelli was on the pitch in a Manchester City shirt for the first time in over a month.

Mancini had not trusted his wayward protege since a red card in a 1-0 Easter Sunday defeat at Arsenal left City eight points behind United with six games to play. Tevez represented a far more dependable option.

But with nowhere left to turn, Aguero dared and prayed for Mario to be super.

Introduced in the 76th minute, Balotelli gave the impression he had not just been banished from Premier League arenas, but football pitches altogether since his previous game.

The Italy striker managed to run through seven goal attempts – two on target, five blocked – during a frenzied cameo. It was probably as well Aguero found him with his back to goal, inside the D and grappling with Anton Ferdinand.

"I tried to control the ball and I had a contact from the defender and the ball went a little bit far from my foot," Balotelli told City TV five years on. "I thought in that half second there is maybe going to be a little bit of space for Sergio."

If Balotelli had stayed upright, the likelihood is QPR would have seen through their final piece of dogged tireless defending. In being forced on to his backside for the only assist of his Premier League career, he created opportunity and chaos.

Facing his own goal, Derry had to hurdle a prone Balotelli, while Wright-Phillips' route back to defend was also compromised. With his centre-back partner grounded, Hill held his position square on, while Kompany's haring towards the six-yard box dragged left-back Taye Taiwo with him.

A pocket of space opened up. A spot of turf Balotelli was able to locate from his sedentary position. As limbs flailed around him and a tight defence scattered, Aguero was thinking fast.

Argentina's tradition of tough, uncompromising neighbourhood football goes hand in hand with the mystique and mythology that cloaks the country's national sport.

A playing style grounded in skill and improvisation – La Nuestra, which translates as "our way" – was locked into the collective consciousness during the first half of the 20th century. The pre-eminent football magazine El Grafico, served to deepen this romantic attachment, with depictions of the pibe – literally a kid or urchin, whose rough and ready footballing technique combined street smarts and skill and was something of an archetype. Typically they would dribble in the gambeta style, a description that implies close control, cunning and deceit of opponents.

The idea that the likes of Diego Maradona, Ariel Ortega, Lionel Messi and all those other squat, explosive and technically brilliant attackers from Argentina immersed themselves in the yellowed pages of El Grafico archive is far-fetched, but the style is unquestionably embedded. Think of the amount of barrelling, dribbling goals such players have produced – close control, small pauses and faints as thighs piston their way through defences.

As the walls were closing in on City's title bid, Aguero showed himself to be a proud product of this lineage. When Balotelli began his battle against gravity, he deftly checked his run behind and around Wright-Phillips to open up a path to the penalty area.

Letting the pass roll, he shaped to shoot, drawing a scampering Taiwo, who left his Kompany decoy a little too late to remain in control. Aguero did not actually touch Balotelli's return pass until his body position persuaded a rash slide tackle that he nudged beyond with the outside of his right boot.

With Taiwo suitably gambeta'd, there came one last stroke of fortune.

"I touched it again and saw I was close to the goal, so I said 'I'll shoot'. The worst thing was that I wanted to shoot hard across goal and it went to the near post, I don't know what happened," Aguero told TyC Sports – the latter sentiment at least aligning him with every soul inside the Etihad Stadium that day.

"After watching it back, I realised that if I had shot across goal a defender could have blocked it. I celebrated the goal and told everybody, 'I hit it so well!'."

Goal 23 of a personal Premier League tally that reached 184, one of 130 with Aguero's ferocious right boot, understandably left an indelible impression on the suddenly defeated Hughes.

"Of all the games I've been involved in, that noise at that moment when that goal went in is different to anything I've ever heard before or since," Hughes said.

"It was just unbelievable sound – different sound to a football crowd. It was a mixture of screaming and noise. It was just an unbelievable moment."

That racket has since been replayed thousands of times across the world. A goal on a tightrope that altered the course of English football, which began with gifting the opposition a 92nd-minute throw-in and ended thanks to a miscue after the main protagonist's strike partner fell over.

It is the Premier League's most famous goal – a moment as synonymous with Manchester as cotton mills and the Hacienda, and yet Argentinian to its very bones.

Whether 10 years on, 20 years on, or 50 years on, expect to see it replayed another few thousand times. On the blue side of Manchester, it stands as an immortal moment.

Related items

  • James advises Slot to block out Man City and target 90 points in first Liverpool season James advises Slot to block out Man City and target 90 points in first Liverpool season

    Arne Slot should block out any noise around trying to catch Manchester City and instead set his sights on compiling 90 points in his first season in charge of Liverpool.

    That is the view of former Liverpool goalkeeper David James, who believes securing Champions League football should be seen as the minimum requirement for former Feyenoord boss Slot, who is replacing Jurgen Klopp at Anfield.

    While Klopp lifted the EFL Cup in his final campaign as manager, James feels it is very difficult for Premier League teams to set any targets relating to any silverware due to the consistent dominance of City under Pep Guardiola.

    City have won an unprecedented four straight Premier League titles and will face rivals Manchester United this weekend at Wembley in an attempt to win back-to-back FA Cup crowns. Guardiola also has four EFL Cup trophies to his name.

    James feels Slot should therefore focus only on what he can control and believes 90 points is an aspirational target that will at least put the Reds in contention.

    Liverpool made it to 82 points in 2023-24, which saw them finish nine behind Man City and seven adrift of second-placed Arsenal.

    That tally was comfortably enough to seal a return to the Champions League for next season, a status which James says Slot must ensure he maintains.

    "As we have seen under Jurgen Klopp, the fantastic manager, there are teams around in the Premier League who don't really care what you think you want to do, namely Manchester City," James said to Stats Perform when asked what Slot's minimum target should be.

    "There could invariably be a situation where whatever it is, such as if Pep decides it is his last season, then it might be fairytale stuff again, that he goes for the quadruple and he does it.

    "Then it doesn't matter [what your targets are], no one wins anything domestically. 

    "The minimum requirement, which Pep can't stop you from doing, has to be qualifying for the Champions League of course. But beyond that, I think it's just getting the performances. 

    "If you get 90 points, and I know this has happened to Liverpool and they have got records to prove it, but if you get 90 points or even more and still don't win the league, then it's not down to you doing something wrong, it's down to the excellence of whoever finishes above you. 

    "I would say minimum Champions League qualification and then just going for 90 points and see where it takes you. As I say, 90 points is the benchmark in the Premier League.

    "You know, it isn't that difficult to achieve when you think about it. You can literally lose to the four best teams, again subjectively, four best teams, home and away, and as long as you beat the others, the other 30 games, that's 90 points.

    "Who cares [which teams you beat]? You don't get an extra three points for beating the teams above you. It's just winning."

    James expects to see plenty of movement in the transfer window now that there have been substantial changes to the staff, but says Slot and his coaching team may not always get their own way.

    He added: "I do [expect a lot of movement]. There are a couple of things to say. The analysis department will have their numbers, they'll know who they need to keep, they'll know who they need to replace and obviously they'll know who they need or want to bring in. 

    "This wasn't just about Jurgen leaving, this was the whole staff going. This is a massive shift, and everybody [left at the club] has their opinion [on the squad], even the analysis guys.

    "[Those opinions] might encourage or discourage the manager from making choices, whether it's selection choices in games or whether it's selection choices for transfers. 

    "The conversation with Slot will be a whole room of [new] opinions added to a data analysis group [trying] to find replacements because some of the players are leaving. 

    "With transfers I think it will cause a little bit of a ruffle. It will be done for the right reasons but I don't think there'll be a situation where Slot will just bring the ones he likes in. 

    "It will be a group decision with the analysis department. It will need to be the right players and, as Liverpool have proven under Jurgen's tenure, when they get it right, they are very successful."

  • Guardiola wins fifth Premier League Manager of the Season award Guardiola wins fifth Premier League Manager of the Season award

    Pep Guardiola has been named Premier League Manager of the Season for the fifth time after leading Manchester City to a fourth straight title.

    City edged out Arsenal by two points on the final day of the season to win their eighth Premier League title, their sixth under Guardiola and their fourth in a row.

    They are the first team in English football history to win more than three consecutive titles, while Guardiola is just the fourth manager to win six English top-flight crowns. 

    Alex Ferguson leads the way with 13, while Guardiola has matched former Aston Villa manager George Ramsay and Liverpool legend Bob Paisley.

    With 11, Ferguson is also the only person to win the Premier League Manager of the Season award more often than Guardiola, with his fifth dragging him further clear of Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger (three each).

    Guardiola also claimed the prize after overseeing title-winning campaigns in 2017-18, 2018-19, 2020-21 and 2022-23.

    Having seen off competition from four other nominees, Guardiola said they deserved to share the honour with him.

    "I want to share it, especially with Mikel [Arteta] for the incredible job he has done until the last game, bringing us to our limits," said Guardiola.

    "Of course, for Jurgen [Klopp], for the unforgettable battles for many, many years. And Unai Emery, making something unbelievable again to bring Aston Villa to the Champions League.

    "And Andoni Iraola, with Bournemouth, being his first season in the Premier League, doing what he has done and coming back from a tough start to the season.

    "It is an honour to be alongside all of them and to win this trophy. We will defend this award as best as possible in the future."

  • Ferguson still better than Guardiola, says James Ferguson still better than Guardiola, says James

    Former Manchester City goalkeeper David James hails Pep Guardiola for "doing remarkable things" but believes he is still not at Alex Ferguson’s level.

    City became the first team in Premier League history to win four consecutive titles with their 3-1 win over West Ham on Sunday, pipping Arsenal to the crown by two points.

    Manchester United had previously won three consecutive Premier League seasons, achieving the feat twice under Ferguson (1998-2001 and 2006-2009).

    Guardiola’s side can create more history on Saturday as they aim to clinch unprecedented back-to-back league and FA Cup doubles against the Red Devils.

    Asked if this achievement put Guardiola’s name alongside Ferguson’s as the best Premier League manager, James, who spent two years with City, disagreed.

    "No, Fergie's still the best. Look at statistics and longevity," James told Stats Perform. "And even more so, since Fergie left, what's happened to Manchester United.

    "You can't even blame or use the excuse he had a good team and did well with it, Fergie rode the waves, he was up and down and even these downs weren't particularly bad.

    "I think third or fourth was probably the worst they ever did; Fergie was the best and Pep will have to hang around for another decade, I think, before he can actually challenge that position.

    "But what we're seeing at the moment, you've got a different style of football, a different type of game in so many different ways. The way the league is constructed at the moment with other competitions around it, Pep is having to do different things to what Fergie may have had to do.

    "I know Fergie was a great manager, but not necessarily the greatest coach. Pep is a great manager and a great coach. He's also got an extra string to his bow in that sense.

    "To be the winner of that league four years in a row, you need to be a superb manager. And I think Pep, in this short time frame, is doing some remarkable things, but he's going to have to hang around for a lot longer to take Ferguson's crown."

    Following their victory over West Ham, Guardiola stated that he was "closer to leaving than staying", raising speculation that next season could be his last.

    "I think the big question for Pep, and it is logical that he will now become the focus given that Jurgen Klopp announced his departure a few months ago, and all of a sudden it was nothing, but Jurgen and he will be the next focus," James added.

    "I think the thing for Pep is, what does he want to do as a person? And it's not that he's completed the treble and that's enough because I think that he would want to do a treble treble, you want to do a quadruple.

    "I can see that competitive side in him, he doesn't seem to change on the sidelines. Even yesterday, when they conceded the goal, and it was a fantastic goal from Kudus, he wasn't happy.

    "I think you can still see that he's still animated, still engaged with the game. There's no question that he's feeling tired in that sense.

    "I would like him to stay. I would like him to stay because I think when you've got someone so good, you need someone to beat them legitimately rather than them just step away and allow everyone else to play.

    "I think he should stay. And I'm sure City will do everything they can to keep him in charge for the foreseeable future."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.