Robbie Savage: Why Man City can cope without Sergio Aguero
In his regular BBC Sport column, Robbie Savage looks at why Manchester City's festive fixture list should allow them to keep in touch with Premier League leaders Chelsea even without injured striker Sergio Aguero, and how the way they won the title last season proves they are far from being a one-man team.
Manchester City will definitely miss Sergio Aguero over the next few weeks, but his absence should not prove as damaging to their title bid as people might think.
The first reason for that is the run of fixtures that City face without their injured star striker are all winnable, and the second is how well they did without him when they were champions last season - when they actually had a better winning record when he was not in the side.
|Man City in the Premier League 2013-14|
|With Aguero||23 games||16 wins||69.60 win %|
|Without Aguero||15 games||11 wins||73.30 win %|
On top of that, City already showed with their brilliant Champions League win over Roma that any talk they are a one-man team is ridiculous. I am expecting them to prove it again and again in the Premier League in their next few matches.
According to City boss Manuel Pellegrini, Aguero's knee injury could keep him out for between four to six weeks, which would rule him out of the league games against Leicester, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Burnley, Sunderland and Everton.
It is not a great time for him to be injured in terms of the number of games he will miss over the busy festive period, but the fact is the first five of those matches should all be won without him anyway.
Those sort of struggling teams simply have to be put away if City are going to stay in touch with leaders Chelsea and remain in contention for the title.
Everton will be tougher opponents but remember that City have already beaten them without Aguero - he injured his knee in the seventh minute of Saturday's win over the Toffees at Etihad Stadium.
Getting Aguero back to his best
The important thing is getting Aguero fit and firing for the games that really matter. Fortunately for City, those come a little later on.
If he is on schedule, he will be in contention to face Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on 18 January.
But the big game for him to aim to be back for is against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 31 January.
There is no point rushing him back, though. City cannot afford to risk him missing the last 16 of the Champions League when that competition resumes in February and it would be even worse if he was not back at his explosive best for the season's run-in.
City got it wrong last season, when a hamstring injury ended a burst of 10 goals in eight games by Aguero and ruled him out for the whole of February.
He returned after a month out but did not look the same player and it came down to Edin Dzeko to score the goals that secured City the title.
Dzeko hit form at exactly the right time, when Aguero and Negredo faded from February onwards.
|Man City's strikers: 1 Feb to 11 May 2014|
|Premier League 2013-14||Negredo||Aguero||Dzeko||Jovetic|
City have clearly been relying a lot on Aguero in the early part of this season - he has 19 goals in all competitions and their next highest scorer is Yaya Toure with six - but now it is massively important to them that they keep Dzeko fit, and get him scoring again.
Dzeko has gone 10 games without a goal, and is one blank away from equalling the longest drought of his City career - 11 games from November 2011 to January 2012.
But despite his lack of form, having him available to lead the line is now absolutely crucial to City's cause.
He has shown in the past that, like Aguero, he scores in bursts and if he gets injured too, then City are serious trouble.
Stevan Jovetic cannot fill his shoes properly because he is not a natural number nine and allowing Negredo to join Valencia has left City a striker short.
Show of strength from City's squad
I wrote at the end of last season how City's title success was down to the strength of their squad - different players stepped up and found form when they had to.
We have seen that again in the past couple of weeks. They still have the quality and up front is the only area where they are lacking numbers.
Aguero was not the only key player missing against Roma - with Vincent Kompany injured, Yaya Toure suspended and David Silva only fit enough to be on the bench, they were without the entire spine of their team at the start of the game.
To go to Stadio Olimpico and win, in a game as crucial as that, was an absolutely brilliant performance.
But it is wrong to suggest that the way City were forced to approach that game because of those key absences is the only way they should play in future European games.
I keep hearing that Pellegrini will have to leave out one of his 'big four' - Aguero, Kompany, Toure and Silva - in order to get the balance of the team right.
Toure seems to be the player who most people suggest should be dropped, even though he is suspended for the first leg of the next round. I don't see it myself.
Yes, Fernandinho, Fernando and Samir Nasri played very well in a midfield triangle against Roma but, when Toure is available again, he has to go back in the side.
People talk about the balance of the team but you have to play your best players.
It is down to Pellegrini how he fits them all in but there is no way any of the 'big four' would ever be left out.
Teams will fear City in Champions League draw
I thought City's Champions League chances were over when they lost at home to CSKA Moscow and were bottom of the group and without a win with two games to go.
It is an amazing turnaround to see them go through - and you know that none of the group winners will want to get City when the draw for the last 16 is made on Monday.
|Who has qualified?|
|Who's in and who's out: The story of the group stages|
|Group A||Atletico Madrid||Juventus|
|Group B||Real Madrid||Basel|
|Group C||Monaco||Bayer Leverkusen|
|Group D||Borussia Dortmund||Arsenal|
|Group E||Bayern Munich||Manchester City|
|Group H||Porto||Shakhtar Donetsk|
Pellegrini will understandably want to avoid Real Madrid and Barcelona, but I don't think they will want to play City either.
It is a different story for Arsenal, who could also end up facing Bayern Munich, the winner of City's group.
It seems to be the same every season for them - they have not got past the last 16 in the past four attempts and a favourable draw seems to be their best hope this time.
Chelsea are the other English side in the knockout stages and I don't think they will care too much who they get.
City have the momentum and maybe they also now have the belief to make real progress in Europe for the first time.
But Jose Mourinho's side look so strong that I fancy them to win the whole thing - they are that good.
Robbie Savage was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan