Sanchez and Aguero -- last of EPL's street footballers
MAN CITY v ARSENAL
(Tomorrow, 11.55pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Both men are fighters. Arsene Wenger got that right.
They are the last of the street footballers in the English Premier League. They played among the big boys, until it got dark, until the last goal settled the contest.
They don't know how to play any other way.
Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero face each other at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow, two South American graduates from the school of hard knocks, two feisty scrappers; two ferocious dinosaurs.
They are an endangered species, a dying breed. England still have Wayne Rooney, but no more from the back streets.
English kids, like their Singaporean counterparts, play their nocturnal football on gaming consoles. Street football died a generation ago; no more back streets, no more battlers and bruisers, no more men like Sanchez and Aguero.
As Arsenal head to Manchester City, Wenger may recall his comments last year.
He had courted Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain from South America, but eventually signed Sanchez. He wanted more than skill. He craved will.
"Look across Europe, and where are the strikers from? Many of them... are from South America," Wenger had famously said. "Maybe it's because in Europe, street football is gone."
But it thrives in South America. I found it on the pockmarked concrete pitches of the Brazilian favelas at the World Cup. Street football is still buried deep within the South American soul. Doggedness runs through its DNA.
The first touch wins the ball. The second keeps it. There's no time for a third. That's how Aguero and Sanchez play, quickly, efficiently and decisively.
Finesse and physique are easy bedfellows. Ballet and brute strength are the tools of their trade. One compliments the other.
The Premier League is lucky to have them, now more than ever, two forces of nurture at the top of their profession, terrorising penalty boxes everywhere.
Sanchez didn't bring the domestic competition back from the dead last weekend, but the season was certainly drifting until his stunning intervention against Stoke.
His double certainly felt like one, two shots of something intoxicating that left us all giddy for the first time since Suarez. The former Liverpool striker shone so brightly, he illuminated an entire season. Sanchez can now do the same.
He's a bull in a shopping mall, covering so much ground in a single match. His favoured forward position is all of them. The kid from the Chilean streets still plays as if darkness is about to fall and the next goal wins, harassing opponents of all sizes and scampering around like a testosterone-injected Roadrunner.
Wenger has played him left, right, through the middle and in the No. 10 role. He popped up in all four positions against Stoke.
Sanchez's fleeting appearances alongside Theo Walcott were tantalising teasers. The thought of him swopping passes and positions with Walcott and Mesut Oezil will pack houses and potentially trigger a late trophy dash from Arsenal.
His infectious enthusiasm is so winning, he has jaded sceptics singing again.
The Chilean has the compete game, but Aguero comes with pure, unadulterated pace. Speed is king in the Premier League and the City striker remains the unassailable monarch.
Defenders can't kick a disappearing shadow.
Aguero has successfully escaped 14 times in 16 Premier League games. Fourteen goals are another fabulous return for an athlete ruthlessly tailored for finishing.
Equally adept with either foot, Aguero leads markers down blind alleys. He has no weaker side, no fixed turn, shimmy or shoulder drop.
He charges on both sides, leaving defenders feeling like old nags with the blinkers on. They can't see what's around them.
There's little to choose between the South Americans.
Aguero scores more. Sanchez assists more.
The Chilean has 12 goals, but his combined goals-and-assists tally now stands at 19, making him the most influential Premier League player. The Argentinian is second on 17.
Expect the figures to change at the Etihad Stadium.
But the stats belong with the bean counters tomorrow. The meeting of Aguero and Sanchez promises a showdown to rouse the spirit.
In a season heavy on significant clashes but light on titans, this is a heavyweight battle between floating butterflies and stinging bees.
For the fighters from South America, only the venue has changed. It's still street football.
They'll play through the darkness until the next goal wins.
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT AGUERO
"He can burst past people with his power. When he’s got his back to goal, he can also use that low centre of gravity to get his backside into defenders and turn very quickly, shifting them away from the ball. He makes space and scores all types of goals. He’s just a great all-round centre forward."
— Former Man City striker Paul Walsh
"The hardest thing to do in football is score goals and he does it brilliantly. Fitness is a key aspect of it but when he’s towards 100 per cent, he’s one of the best around. He can score with his left and his right and he’s a strong boy who won’t get bullied — he’ll keep coming back for more."
— Former Arsenal forward Alan Smith
"Aguero is so good at sensing defenders around him. That lets him lay the ball off, hold it up or turn and drive on. His close control is exceptional and he teases defenders, drawing them in before whipping the ball away."
— Former Gunners defender Martin Keown
SERGIO AGUERO’S EPL STATS
- GAMES: 16
- GOALS: 14
- MINUTES PER GOAL: 76.9
- SHOT CONVERSION: 24.1%
- ASSISTS: 3
- CHANCES CREATED: 15
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT SANCHEZ
"He’s got great energy and enthusiasm and, apart from Luis Suarez, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with an appetite for the game who loves being involved like that. It’s fantastic to watch. That’s what endears him to people. They look at the fact that he’s come from Barcelona but he’s not sulking."
— Paul Walsh
"You can’t fail to be impressed by his work-rate. It must be infectious. His teammates see the desire that he shows and you’ve really got to follow in his slipstream. He never stops. It’s frightening at times. If you talk to people at Arsenal, they’ve had to calm him down at times."
— Alan Smith
"Sanchez roams all over and does everything at incredible speed. You can’t run alongside somebody like that, so the only way to deal with them is to take more gambles and get there early. As soon as he takes a touch, you have to be right there."
— Martin Keown
ALEXIS SANCHEZ’S EPL STATSl GAMES: 20
- GOALS: 12
- MINUTES PER GOAL: 139.8
- SHOT CONVERSION: 27.9%
- ASSISTS: 7
- CHANCES CREATED: 57