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A summer of free agents: Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay

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Photos via Imago

An anecdote in Indian mythology talks about what separates an ace archer from the average one. Facing a target placed on a tree, the ordinary eye catches everything in its vicinity – the trees, the leaves and all the other objects in the background. However, what an ace archer sees is only the centre of the target. Nothing beyond the point of focus perturbs him. Not the trees, its lush foliage, nor the birds on its branches.

Poachers in football can be likened to using the same analogy. They see the ball, they see the goal- and they slam it in. The position they are in, the position of the goalkeepers, the charging defenders seldom matter to them. Like the leaves and the trees, they are not in the equation. It is this very killer instinct that has made Erling Haaland so valuable. Likewise, this very talent has seen Bayern Munich profit repeatedly with Robert Lewandowski, and Harry Kane develop into one of the world’s best marksmen.

Barcelona’s struggles this season have been glaringly clear. Chance after chance goes begging. Barcelona have missed 69 big chances in the League alone, with 17 more chances missed than second-placed Real Madrid.

The departure of Luis Suarez was undoubtedly a necessary operation. However, there is no denying that it needed better planning. Offloading one of the greatest strikers in world football and turning eyes onto Martin Braithwaite was a terrible blunder in itself. Barcelona have suffered the consequences of the same throughout the season. Now, they must look beyond and find replacements to fill the void in that number ‘9’ position.

An ill-plotted departure. (Photo via Imago)

Ahead of the summer transfer window, Joan Laporta has his eyes set on reinforcing the centre-forward position. Of the innumerable names linked to the club, two have been linked very strongly. Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay cannot find their way out of the front pages of Spanish media and are the two favourites to join the Catalan side.

Barça Universal brings you a comprehensive breakdown of both the players, their profiles, and their pros and cons.

Sergio Aguero

By Adithya Eshwarla

Over the years, Sergio Leonel Aguero del Castillo had earned a reputation like none other. His name is synonymous with goals and strikes a deep fear within the opposition defences. The Argentine began his footballing career at Independiente before securing a move to Atletico Madrid in 2006.

During his five year tenure at the Spanish capital, ‘Kun’ scored 74 goals in 175 appearances. A move to Manchester City in 2011 soon followed, and what a historical move it would prove to be.

In his glorious 10 year spell at Manchester City, Aguero rewrote page after page in the history books. Perhaps the most memorable moment in football history still stands to Aguero’s name- The last gasp winner against QPR to secure a first Premier League title for the Blues of Manchester.

Forever iconic. (Photo via Imago)

The Argentine is the highest-scoring foreign player in PL history and has also recorded the most hat-tricks in English football’s top flight. Needless to say, Aguero is a bonafide PL legend.

Cementing oneself as the greatest striker in Premier League history does not come easy. Sergio Aguero established himself as a lethal goalscorer through a combination of factors. The Argentine is known to churn up chances from impossible situations singlehandedly via his eye for goal. However, what makes him altho-more special is his off the ball movement. The Argentine has a knack for wriggling out of a marker’s radius and timing his runs between the lines to absolute perfection.

Aguero 2018/19 Premier League.
Aguero 2019/20 Premier League. (via Sofascore)

As is evident from his heatmap from 2019-20, Kun is a daunting presence in the opposition box. He lingers around the area outside the box during the buildup and darts into the box as soon as he sees an opportunity. In the past few years, Aguero has assumed a role even more niche as a finisher. As is evident from comparisons of his heat map of 2018-19 and 2019-20, the Argentine’s presence is now more marked directly in front of the goal.

An overview of Kun’s shots taken reveals his versatility. Aguero has a strong aerial presence and can threaten with both feet. He can create realistic goal-scoring chances from almost anywhere in the 18-yard area. The goals (shown in green in the representation) show that the Argentine is most dangerous directly face to face with the keeper with a slightly better record on shots from the right side compared to the left.

Kun Aguero shot-map. (via Understat)

Over the years, the Manchester City striker has averaged 0.84 goals per 90, overperforming his expected goals per 90(0.81 xG90). The relatively close values of the two indicate that he has taken all the real chances that come his way without relying on surprise goals from unexpected positions. His success has been possible by combining his technique and his large number of shots attempted. Sergio has averaged 4.61 shots per 90 in his career, a number that would justify his recognition as a star-striker.

What sets the World Cup 2014 finalist apart, however, is his technique in the box. While most strikers take their share of touches in the box before finding themselves in a comfortable position to shoot, Aguero often skips the formality. Most of his goals come from direct one-touch finishes. In tight spaces and crowded defences, this strength helps him find the back of the net even from a sniff of goal.

Moreover, similar to Luis Suarez, Aguero’s off the ball movement is underrated. His ability to pull and distort opposition defences merely by his runs helps open up space for other attackers. Over the years under Pep Guardiola, the 32-year-old has improved significantly in his buildup and positional play.

Coming to consistency, there are few in Europe who can claim to be as reliable as the veteran. Between 2013-2020, he has averaged above 0.9 goals per 90 in every season barring 2016-17 and 2018-19. Moreover, he has never averaged below 0.75 goals per 90 in the same duration.

With an average of a goal every 108 minutes, he is comfortably the league’s best in the same regard. He has been Manchester City’s top goalscorer in every season from 2011-2019. Rightfully so, his feats have earned him the title of the ‘king of consistency’.

Sergio Aguero would arrive at Barcelona with a zest of freshness. No unnecessary baggage of expectations travels to Catalonia with him. Having already spent a season as a backup striker at Manchester City, the Argentine is no stranger to a diminished role. Moreover, he understands the reality and is ready to pitch in whenever called upon. More importantly, he arrives, taking a massive pay-cut, lightening the economic burden on the club.

WIlling to play second-fiddle. (Photo via Imago)

A recurring theme amongst fans has been the repeated comparisons with Suarez when in reality, none are warranted. Luis Suarez is one of the greatest strikers to grace the game. However, the reasons for his departure are not purely sporting.

Over the years, Kun has built an almost telepathic understanding with players like Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva. He has mastered the craft of anticipating and converting through balls by his movements between the lines, an attribute that is crucial at Barcelona.

Undoubtedly, his years of experience will come in handy when at the receiving end of through balls from Lionel Messi or Sergio Busquets. He can help the Blaugranas stretch the opposition vertically and create spaces. His movement in the box is an asset like none other. Most importantly, his killer instinct in front of a goal would be invaluable.

Having played under Guardiola, while not a guarantee for success, will certainly be a massive advantage for when it comes to fitting in at Barcelona.

Guidance from the master himself. (Photo via Imago)

At Barcelona, the veteran’s role will not be that of a regular starter. Fitness has been a major concern regarding the Argentine, however, a conservative approach can still bring the best out of him. At the age of 32, he requires careful management. Nevertheless, having a weapon as potent as Aguero on the bench is almost an undreamable dream. Even a season with 10-15 league goals would warrant a successful signing card.

Age is often considered a bane, but with that age comes experience. Having played for Atletico Madrid, Aguero is no stranger to the style of play in La Liga. Barcelona’s struggles in front of goal this season are well documented. The immediate solution lies in the Argentine’s signing, for the experience he brings with him almost guarantees success.

Multiple reliable outlets report the agreement in principle between Barcelona and Sergio Aguero to be signed. Rumour has it that the Argentine has accepted a 40% pay cut to join the Garnet and Blues of Catalonia. That would amount to 174,000 euros a week, a figure significantly lesser than that of most of the squad. Moreover, Kun has already announced his departure from Pep Guardiola’s side earlier this year and will be available on a free transfer.

Reports say Barcelona may have to pay a 6 million euro signing bonus. However, that is a nominal fee for a striker of his calibre. A free transfer with a massive salary cut is everything Barcelona could possibly dream of for a star signing. Moreover, given their struggles in the striker department, it seems too good a deal to pass off.

Memphis Depay

By Shivraj Duggal

Memphis Depay is an option currently being considered for Barça’s forward line, given the stellar Ligue One campaign he has enjoyed with Lyon. The 27-year-old is a versatile forward, who offers not just a single profile, but an array of skills that can suit several different positions in Barça’s forward line.

A worthy alternative. (Photo via Imago)

The Dutchman has played in three different attacking positions throughout the season: centre-forward, attacking midfielder, and left-wing. Given his dexterity and ability to create play, Depay prefers to drop deep and create chances for his teammates.

He brings a very high level of creativity, with an xA of 0.37 per 90, which puts him in the 99th percentile amongst all forwards in Europe. He also ranks in the 97th percentile for shot-creating actions. Therefore, it is evident that Depay is the kind of striker who will drop deep to use his skill on the ball and ability to pass the ball in creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.

While he offers a creative profile, he has also shown his ability as a goalscorer, in fact, ranking as one of Ligue One’s best direct performers across the last four seasons. Depay has racked up 20 goals and 10 assists this season alone; a highly productive campaign for a player of any status. Therefore, the Dutchman will add bags of goals to the Camp Nou if he were to don the Blaugrana outfit, who have notoriously struggled to finish their chances.

Apart from just creating play and scoring goals, an important factor is that Depay has a great ability to take on defenders, as he successfully carries out 2.52 dribbles per game. This is of great importance for forwards in Barça, who often find themselves in positions where they must display the ability to attempt take-ons.

With an inconsistently performing Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, and an injured Ansu Fati, the Dutchman may probably be tasked with several different attacking roles throughout the season; here, his versatility as an attacker will aid him greatly in excelling under varying and demanding conditions.

No guarantees about Fati. (Photo via Imago)

It is important to note the physical advantages in signing Memphis Depay. The former Manchester United player is only 27 years of age, meaning he is in his physical prime as a footballer. If he were to transfer over to Barça, he has at least three or four good years in him. Both the short-term and long-term benefits of bringing in Depay makes more sense.

His abilities to create, score, dribble, and take up any role in the attacking line means that he will essentially serve as Ronald Koeman’s utility man up front (that is, if Ronald Koeman stays, of course).

Since having suffered a long-term cruciate ligament rupture last season, the 27-year-old has remained fit throughout the entirety of this season, playing a demanding 3000 minutes across 39 games for Lyon. He has essentially been decisive in nearly every fixture for Les Gones, registering 32 goal contributions in 39 games. He has contributed to 0.82 goals per game, compared to Griezmann’s 0.62, for example.

His decisiveness in front of goal, paired with his ability to play the final pass, makes him a complete forward; he can occupy positions deeper in the pitch, while also remaining comfortable if given a wider role or a centre-forward role in occupying the opposition defenders. His season-long heatmap portrays a player of great versatility and dynamic positioning; free-flowing independence throughout the field. A quality that is crucial for Blaugrana forwards.

Great versatility from the Dutchman

The former PSV player’s fluid positioning, dexterous skillset, and knack for finding the back of the net make him a near-perfect addition to a Barça squad that has been lacking pretty much everything he can offer if he arrived at the Nou Camp. One of the biggest issues for Barça is Messidependencia; or the over-reliance on Lionel Messi. Essentially, both in terms of creativity as well as scoring goals, the Blaugranas require Messi; without him, they fail miserably to do either task.

While Griezmann has enjoyed a revival in his second campaign at Barça, and Dembélé has managed to stay fit with consistency, Barça still lack several traits in attack that the Dutchman would bring to perfection. In terms of creativity, he ranks in the 94th percentile for progressive passes, and 92nd percentile for progressive carries across all forwards in Europe.

With a very high Expected Assists tally of 12.9 throughout the league season, Depay can be constantly expected to create chances with flair and confidence for the Blaugranas, essentially working to reduce the weight on Messi’s shoulders.

Depay has also been a consistent goalscorer for most of his career, meaning he will certainly bring goals to Barça. Currently, the second-top scorer of Barça (after Messi) is Antoine Griezmann, with 19 goals across all competitions. In La Liga, the Frenchman only has 12 goals, while the rest of the Barça attackers fall embarrassingly short of any respectable standard.

Depay has registered 20 goals in the league campaign alone while only playing three other matches in Coupe de France (in which he bagged 2 additional goals). Throughout his Lyon career, the Dutch forward has racked up respectable tallies, coming in with 19 goals and 13 assists in the 2017/18 season while also registering 22 goals in his debut campaign with PSV.

Depay developed a taste for goals very early. (Photo via Imago)

Like Aguero, the 27-year-old can come into Barça on a free. Several reports also outline that he will be significantly cheaper than the Argentine (in terms of wages), meaning that financially speaking, he is a wiser signing for Joan Laporta and co to bet their money on. If they can pin him down with a long contract, they could make a large profit by selling him if his transfer to Catalonia doesn’t go to plan.

With his versatility to play in several positions in the forward line, Depay will be a Swiss army knife in attack for the Blaugranas. In addition, his dexterity, creativity, and consistent playmaking will help reduce the load on Messi’s shoulders, meaning we may see the Argentine magician upfield more often in hopes of scoring goals. Even given all these factors in which Depay excels over Aguero, it is no secret that the Manchester City striker is a far better outright goalscorer than the Dutchman.

Nevertheless, Depay is a fairly respectable goalscorer himself, and he will surely score with consistency for the Catalonians. Pairing this with the several other advantages of signing the Dutchman, it seems to be the wiser option.

Conclusion

Signing either of the two strikers comes with advantages and disadvantages. In Aguero, Barça will find a striker with a killer instinct who naturally occupies dangerous zones in the box. He also has a connection with Messi, meaning they will likely link up spectacularly. However, his woeful injury record — and the old age of 32 — means that there are several risks present that may even cancel out the advantages of signing the City striker.

In many ways, then, Memphis Depay begins to look like the better option between the two. The picture is never so black-and-white. However, signing the Dutchman comes with its own set of flaws. No matter how versatile a forward he is, he is simply not a striker. He will not fit the mould of a striker, and he will not occupy the zones which one can expect a striker to occupy. Therefore, doubts arise as to whether he would solve Barça’s problem of lacking a number nine.

More of the same issues with Depay? (Photo via Imago)

An alternative way of looking at the scenario of choosing ‘between’ them, rather, is choosing both of them. While this may not sound like a wise choice initially, it could serve to benefit the Catalans greatly. Truth be told, Barça currently possess one reliable attacker: Lionel Messi.

And he is soon to turn 34-years-old with no guarantees yet as to whether he stays at Barcelona. With financial difficulties making the signing of Laporta’s favourite option Erling Haaland nearly impossible, signing two alternative options suddenly looks like a decent strategy for the Blaugranas.

With Ousmane Dembélé firing off-target ever-so-often, and Griezmann too, still struggling to find his footing, signing both Aguero and Depay entirely becomes a valid option. Even Barça starlet Ansu Fati has undergone four surgeries, meaning that he will need to be eased back into the team with utmost caution from next season.

The best way to justify such a strategy is using the example of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. They have six excellent forwards: Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ferran Torres, Phil Foden, and Riyad Mahrez. It is not one exceptional player that helps their attack excel, but the combination and variation of six different attackers.

Never a bad thing to have options. (Photo via Imago)

While not directly following such a blueprint, signing both Aguero and Depay gives Barça their ‘six’ main options: Griezmann, Dembele, Messi, Aguero, Depay, and Fati. Aguero will likely remain on this list only in the short term, potentially replaceable by Fransisco Trincão, among others. And with alternation comes a safety net; injuries to crucial players will become a much smaller problem, given the wealth of world-class options the Blaugranas will enjoy.

The preparedness and depth of the squad combined with a tactically competent manager’s tactics allow teams to win trophies. With just one reliable attacker, Barça can never expect to rise to the top. Therefore, signing both Aguero and Depay, especially in the current scenario where both forwards can conveniently sign for Barça on a free, might be the best way to progress for the Catalan giants.

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