Guardiola backs Aguero to recover from penalty pain
Pep Guardiola insisted Friday that Sergio Aguero has the mental strength to bounce back from a nightmare week.
The Manchester City striker has returned to England seeking a lift after suffering a significant setback to his World Cup hopes with Argentina.
Aguero suffered a minor calf problem during a 2-2 draw in Peru on Thursday of last week, but recovered in time to face Paraguay on Tuesday — only to miss a penalty as Edgardo Bauza’s side lost 1-0 in Cordoba.
Those results have left Argentina outside the top four automatic qualification places for Russia 2018 with eight of their 18 matches to play, and Aguero admitting he could be dropped by Bauza.
Aguero had an excellent start to the season with his club, scoring 11 goals in his first six matches, including Champions League hat-tricks for City against Steaua Bucharest and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
He did not find the net in either of City’s two matches before the recent international break, though, and is bidding to get back to form for the Premier League leaders when City welcome Everton to Eastlands on Saturday.
City manager Guardiola said repeatedly that he expected more from Aguero, even as the striker made such an impressive start to the campaign.
And Guardiola was confident his leading scorer would rise to the challenge, telling a news conference on Friday: “Emotionally he’s fine, he’s very well.
“But you have to know, we are all criticised –- an Argentine in Argentina, a Brazilian in Brazil, a Spaniard in Spain, the players across the world and the managers across the world.
“It can make you stronger, you can put up with it, or else you better find something else to do.”
Guardiola explained that all of the world’s high-profile players, including Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Neymar and Raheem Sterling, have to deal with intense criticism.
He added: “It’s not exclusive to Sergio, it’s happening to Leo too, with Di Maria, it happens to Dani Alves in Brazil, to Neymar in Brazil, to Raz in England. When you play badly and you lose, they kill you.”
– Koeman class –
City face a demanding run of seven games across three competitions over the next three weeks, including home and away Champions League fixtures against Guardiola’s former club Barcelona and an EFL Cup fourth-round trip to Manchester United.
The manager, though, insisted he would not prioritise one competition over another.
“Never prioritise,” he said. “Of course when we play in the league, it’s a little bit different but for the other competitions the next one is the most important game.
“I’m going to see how the international players are physically, their mentality, their mental approach. Some of the players recover quickly, others need more time.
“Tomorrow is the most important game. I don’t know what’s going to happen against Everton so the approach for the next one is to win tomorrow.”
Meanwhile Guardiola paid tribute to Everton manager Ronald Koeman, the former Dutch international whom he played alongside at Barcelona in the 1990s.
“I think he was one of the first central defenders with the quality not just to defend,” Guardiola said.
“Johan Cruyff (the then Barcelona manager) bought Koeman to show us, to teach us why we need a central defender like Ronald.
“He was one of the few guys that I never saw fail in important games — he always played well. I never saw him play a bad, bad game in the Champions League.
“His quality was the big build-up, amazing long balls, 40-metre quick balls. He was by far one of the best central defenders I’ve ever met.”