SOUTH AFRICA RACES
Beat The Retreat one to beat
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Aguero's five-star show a stark warning for rivals
Five-goal Aguero's return to form rekindles City's title charge
MAN CITY 6
(Sergio Aguero 42, 49, 50, 60, 62, Kevin de Bruyne 53)
(Aleksandar Mitrovic 18)
The English Premier League title race is unlikely to extend beyond Manchester's M60 motorway.
With Sergio Aguero back in emphatic form, it may perhaps be for the best.
To deny the Argentina star billing on the back of a performance this clinical and dazzling would be a travesty for connoisseurs of the Beautiful Game.
As he rifled home his fifth - and Manchester City's sixth against Newcastle United last night, it was almost as if his inability to score from open play for over two months had never happened.
This was a showing evocative of his 2011-12 vintage.
The last time the 27-year-old Argentinian dazzled the Etihad Stadium in such blistering fashion, on his debut, City went on to snatch the title from the jaws of defeat.
It could be a pattern that is set to repeat itself this time around, with Manchester United again on their ascendancy.
A popular refrain at the Etihad Stadium is to quesition opposing supporters on their whereabouts when City were in more humbler competitive surroundings before east Manchester witnessed the turbo-charged renaissance of the city's "noisy neighbours".
They were simpler times; days when Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee were worshipped unconditionally. That pantheon should soon, if not already, extend to Aguero.
An eight-minute hat-trick, separated only by the half-time interval, was barely the sum of his exploits.
Five goals scored in 20 minutes make Robert Lewandowski's similar haul for Bayern Munich seem almost paltry despite the increased timespan undertaken.
When Kevin de Bruyne fizzed a shot beyond Tim Krul's left-hand post, Aguero will doubtless have looked on, wondering whether he would have poached a historic sixth.
Had the substitutes' bench not beckoned minutes earlier, it would have become a certainty.
Winning has never come easy for City, particularly where the EPL title is concerned.
In both 2012 and 2014, they were forced to stage Lazarus-like comebacks.
A similar pattern has threatened to follow this season with Aguero's recent dip in form.
September began and ended well for Manuel Pellegrini's side; everything in between was largely forgettable.
It was little coincidence that City's problems stemmed from Aguero's withdrawal, through injury, at Crystal Palace.
Winless in the EPL for over three weeks, this month offers a more warming home front. Aguero's five-star show satisfied that itch in pure style.
Deficiencies at the other end of the field, however, continue to plague City.
Pellegrini remains insistent that his side cannot attribute their recent defensive problems to the absence of captain Vincent Kompany but evidence to the contrary is incredibly damning.
Nicolas Otamendi's involvement has now seen City concede seven goals in three EPL games compared to a flawless record of five clean sheets in as many games prior.
He was again at fault as Aleksandar Mitrovic stunned the home crowd in breaking the deadlock in the 18th minute.
Others were culpable; not least compatriot Pablo Zabaleta, replacing the previously ever-present Bacary Sagna, exposed his rustiness in his first outing of the season was evident in the build-up to the concession.
Whether Otamendi enjoys a similarly improved second season to the one Eliaquim Mangala, his defensive partner, has experienced remains to be seen.
Margin for error and bedding-in periods are something that City can ill afford if their renewed title ambitions are to be realised.
- Aston Villa 0 Stoke 1
- Bournemouth 1 Watford 1
- Crystal Palace 2 West Brom 0
- Norwich 1 Leicester 2
- Sunderland 2 West Ham 2