32 is a fine age – you’ve probably overcome your quarter-life crisis a while back (and are now looking forward to the good old mid-life crisis). However, if you’re a footballer, you’re probably approaching the latter stages of your career at the highest stage of the game (unless your name is Zlatan Ibrahimović), especially when your knee is as dodgy as Sergio Agüero’s is.
The point is – Manchester City need to start searching for a long-term replacement to their all-time record goal-scorer. Reports suggesting that the talismanic Argentine striker will be leaving for Inter next summer may well be false. Still, City know that they need to sign someone similar in terms of goal-getting ability soon so that the passing of the baton is as smooth as possible.
Yes, they have Gabriel Jesus in their ranks, who is only 23-years-old. However, the Brazilian striker isn’t exactly a like-for-like replacement, as his form in front of goal isn’t as good as Agüero’s is, but he is a much better option when it comes to pressing and link-up play and is an option in a different set of tactics. To replace Agüero, City need a prolific goal-scorer.
17, on the other hand, is an even finer age than 32 – you haven’t met that quarter-life crisis yet and aren’t even an adult (no responsibilities)! However, if you’re a footballer, this is about the time that you start looking for a club which promises regular senior football in the near future, especially when you’re as talented as Liam Delap is.
The scene seems to be set perfectly – Sergio Agüero is approaching the end of his days in Manchester, while young Liam Delap is keen to make an impression on the first team and establish himself as a regular starter soon. The question we will try to answer at in this analysis is: Can the young Englishman fill the legendary Argentine striker’s shoes?
In this tactical analysis, which will be in the form of a scout report, we will aim to find an answer to that question:
Positioning & running
Scoring tap-ins doesn’t earn you too much praise on Twitter, but your manager will be over the moon if you manage that. A striker’s positioning is vital for him to have any chance of scoring, and that’s one area where Sergio Agüero stands out; he’s always at the right place at the right time. You can learn the art of the tap-in from him.
He’s quite impossible to mark in the box. Above, there are six defenders between Agüero and the ball, but he exploits the tiniest of spaces by moving away from the goal to reach the low cross. Once he gets on the end of the cross, it’s just a matter of one touch.
Agüero’s runs are not meant to chase through balls to get in behind the defence, but rather their main objective is to get at the end of a low cross in the box and guide the ball home.
The first key is that Agüero isn’t playing on the shoulder of the defence, but is a couple of strides behind their line so that he has a momentum advantage when he starts making the run to reach the ball. Obviously, it helps to have a genius like Kevin De Bruyne as a teammate since the Belgian midfielder can see the space that Agüero sees and has the ability to put the ball there.
Once Agüero finds himself at the end of the cross, the scorekeeper might as well add another goal to City’s tally because there’s no way he will miss such a chance in a million attempts. Last season, the Argentine striker averaged 5.1 touches in the penalty area per match and returned with a goal for every 7.2 touches in the opposition box.
Liam Delap, on the other hand, does not score his goals in that way. The young Englishman isn’t half as much of a fox in the box as Agüero is, but he makes up for that being an incredibly hard-working striker and pouncing on absolutely any chances he gets.
You can start to see some key differences between Agüero and Delap’s respective styles of play here, as Delap is playing right on the shoulder of the last man. The 17-year-old isn’t the quickest in the world either, but he is faster than Agüero and can match opposing centre-backs for pace if he times his runs right. In this case, he did just that, and he finished off in style (more on that later).
The teenage striker is an absolute nightmare for defenders because he is always in and around their area, and punishes errors in the most clinical way imaginable.
The above instance was in the very last minute of the match. Note how sharp Delap is as he pounces on a slip from the defender to latch onto the ball.
Delap managed to reach the ball before the outrushing keeper and lobbed it over him. He got his contact right and found himself inside the six-yard box with an empty net in front of him, which is where he side-footed the ball.
Such a goal is a testament to Delap’s non-stop hard-work and alertness, which he maintained until the very last minute of the match (even when his side had the game in the bag). Pep Guardiola is known to demand perfection and wants his players to operate at the highest level until the full-time whistle, and Delap has clearly displayed that.
Overall, it’s clear to see that Agüero and Delap are very different as far as goal-scoring is concerned. The two deal damage in very separate ways, but the end product is always quite similar – goals.
If Sergio Agüero is through on goal and only has the keeper the beat, you may well bet your house on him scoring. He’s one of the most lethal finishers the game has ever seen, and that is why he has scored so many goals. However, because he isn’t the quickest forward out there, he rarely runs in behind the defence. So, most of his goals that aren’t close-range tap-ins are absolute rockets from outside the box.
Firstly, Agüero is in an area much deeper than his usual positions – a couple of strides off the last defender. In this case, he’s surrounded by four opponents and is a fair distance away from goal.
The crucial mistake that the defence made is that they backed off and allowed Agüero to reach the edge of the box and get into a shooting position. Once you give the talismanic Argentine striker a chance, he usually takes it in some style.
Liam Delap is capable of doing similar things too.
The above instance came just after the run he made, which we discussed earlier. Delap finished first-time and found the top corner in a manner not too dissimilar to that of Agüero except the fact that Delap is on the opposite side and is using his left foot.
Strictly speaking in accordance with the statistics, Delap is a better finisher than Agüero. The Englishman outperforms his xG by 0.29 in every match on average, whereas the Argentine striker only bettered his xG by 0.13 on average. Not too shabby for a 17-year-old.
Hold-up play & link-up play
One thing that Sergio Agüero isn’t so good at is holding the ball up – not that he needs to do that considering how City play. Liam Delap, however, is 6′ 1″ tall, and his physique means that he has that ability.
Delap has been used as a target man quite often in the past since his stature helps him shield the ball away from the opposition and wait for support. He has won 34.8% of the offensive duels that he has contested and 35.7% of the aerial duels that he has taken part in in the last two seasons.
After taking the ball down and finding the space to turn, Delap looks up and sees his teammate making a run before playing him in with a nice through ball. With that, Delap got half of Agüero’s assists tally from 2019/20 in just one pass. Clearly, the Englishman is much better at linking up with his teammates than the prolific Argentine striker is.
Delap also likes to drop very very deep at times – something that Agüero never does. Above, you can see that he is closer to his own goal and facing it too even though his team is under no pressure and they have possession.
Their heatmaps do a good job of telling the story.
The first heatmap is from Sergio Agüero’s 2019/20 season. The second one is from Liam Delap this season. Clearly, most of Agüero’s work was concentrated in and around the penalty area, while Delap has been involved all over the pitch – including the midfield third. In fact, he even has a reasonably big patch inside his own half.
Evidently, Delap puts in a lot more work than Agüero does to help his team keep possession and build attacks, while Agüero is more of a poacher who finds himself on the end of his team’s moves.
Sergio Agüero’s shorter height and a resultant lower centre of gravity mean that he is quite slick with the ball at his feet, and can easily navigate past defenders. However, he rarely finds himself in tight spaces and only has to call upon his dribbling ability inside the box when he wants to get a shot away.
Above, you can see how Agüero has the ball inside the box, but is in a tight area and surrounded by defenders who are blocking his sight of goal. So, he decides to take it on and carry the ball a bit further.
Even then, Agüero is surrounded by defenders, and the man in front of him continues to deter him from shooting. So, the Argentine feints to shoot, but only knocks it further forward.
The trick works, as two defenders fling themselves to the ground and open up space for Agüero to shoot. The striker needs no second invitation as he propels his shot into the top corner past the helpless keeper.
Liam Delap, on the other hand, is deceptively slick with the ball at his feet despite his size. The youngster has the ability to wriggle away from defenders in tight areas and can protect the ball while he’s at it using his frame.
In this instance, Delap has his back to goal with a couple of defenders keeping him occupied and preventing him from turning. So, he knocks it forward and moves out of the penalty area.
However, he finds himself in yet more trouble in this area, as he has three defenders hounding him and is sandwiched in between opponents. This is when he quickly knocks the ball away from the tight area and leaves those around him in his wake, creating a great shooting opportunity.
Delap caps it off with an excellent finish that goes straight into the bottom corner, leaving the defenders behind to marvel at his brilliance.
Like Agüero, Delap can do a great job of opening up a goal-scoring opportunity from a tight situation.
At first glance, Sergio Agüero and Liam Delap seem to be very different strikers if you take a look at their physique. After a deeper look, it’s clear that that is indeed the case despite some similarities. Both of them are not half-bad with the ball at their feet as they can dribble their way out of tight situations and possess a lethal finish with either foot, but that’s where the similarities end.
Agüero is undeniably one of the best poachers in world football and is quite unstoppable once he gets inside the box. The Argentine striker scores an alarming amount of goals, and quite a few of those are down to his quick thinking and smart positioning. However, the 32-year-old isn’t renowned for his hard work or team play.
Delap, on the other hand, works his socks off as he chases down long balls and shields them from opponents while waiting for support. He drops deep to help his team and doesn’t mind running the channels either, but isn’t exactly a fox in the box. He’s only 17-years-old, however, and he has time to improve his positioning and movements inside the box. If he works on that, he will become a real force to reckon with.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City aren’t the easiest team to break into for a youngster, as Phil Foden is the only man who has succeeded in doing so and his entry was extremely gradual too. Delap has already been called up to the senior team, but that was because of necessity rather than choice. If all their strikers are fit, it’s hard to see him starting or even making the bench.
However, Liam Delap does have a fair amount of time to acclimatise to the senior squad and slowly take over Sergio Agüero’s role. Make no mistake; he isn’t a like-for-like replacement but does possess the required skill set to lead the City attack and adds a different angle of dynamism to the team. But, as always, only time can tell.