The most notable element of Sergio Aguero looking on as an unused substitute when Manchester City won at Old Trafford in December last season was how unremarkable it seemed.
A month earlier, Aguero claimed a place in the history books by scoring in City's 4-2 Champions League win over Napoli – becoming the club's all-time leading goalscorer – but that lofty status offered no guarantees.
Ever since Gabriel Jesus' arrival from Palmeiras in January 2017, the Argentine's status as the number one striker at the Etihad Stadium had been under threat to an extent it never was in the previous five and a half years.
Barring any late fitness concerns in the hours before a Manchester derby that looks set to prove pivotal in the destiny of the Premier League title, there is no doubt who will lead Pep Guardiola's attack on enemy territory this Wednesday.
Jesus tests the old messiah
It is something of a quirk that Aguero, one of the English top flight's leading strikers, has not played at the division's most famous ground in the competition for four years.
For Guardiola's first derby in charge of City in September 2016, he was suspended – the first of two bans for violent conduct acquired before the turn of that year.
Those moments of indiscipline spoke of a player frustrated by the new demands of his manager's feted playing style and an early season goal glut, including hat-tricks versus Steaua Bucharest and Borussia Monchengladbach in Europe, was met with qualified praise.
"He has to know that behind him there is a team that is going to help him if he is going to help us. That is what I have to convince him," Guardiola said.
Jesus, it seemed, needed very little persuasion. By the start of February 2017, Aguero was on the bench as City's other striker started three consecutive Premier League matches.
Making hay with the centurions
In the third match, Jesus suffered a broken metatarsal at Bournemouth, meaning Aguero had a chance to regain his old status and the forward duo ended Guardiola's first season in charge starting together.
Aguero tore into 2017-18, again in tandem with Jesus, before a broken rib suffered when his taxi crashed following an evening out in Amsterdam checked his progress – an episode that appeared entirely unhelpful for a man looking to win his boss around.
In the same month that Jesus got the nod at Old Trafford, Guardiola praised his high pressing as "the best in the world", despite a fallow period in front of goal.
City's strikers continued to dovetail with their fitness problems as the Brazil star sustained medial ligament damage and Aguero stormed into 2018, hitting 15 goals and notching two hat-tricks in the period up to and including a 3-0 EFL Cup final win over Arsenal.
Injury struck once more, with a knee problem leaving Aguero in a race to be fit for Argentina's shambolic 2018 World Cup campaign. When champions City needed a stoppage-time goal to reach 100 points on the final day of the season at Southampton, it was Jesus who stepped forward.
Top dog leading by example
When Aguero's match-winning brace against Chelsea in last August's Community Shield was brought up at the post-match news conference, Guardiola beamed.
"We were really impressed when he arrived [for pre-season training]," he said. "With his physicality, maybe he [usually] needs a little more time but he arrived so sharp and so good."
Now 200 goals into his City career, Aguero was breaching new ground and emphatically restating his worth.
A haul of 30 in all competitions has yielded a PFA Player of the Year nomination, while two trebles in as many weekends against Arsenal and Chelsea brought him level with Alan Shearer as the most prolific hat-trick scorer in Premier League history.
But goals only tell a part of the story. According to Opta data, Aguero is winning possession in the final third more often than in his previous two seasons under Guardiola.
It is the same story in terms of interceptions and tackles made, while he has never claimed more than his eight assists so far in a Premier League season. As Leroy Sane and record signing Riyad Mahrez struggle for starts amid murmurings of discontent, Aguero is the example of what must be done to win Guardiola around.
Tres puntos muy importantes para seguir en carrera. Una victoria dedicada a nuestra gente que tanto nos apoyó esta semana//Three massive points to stay ahead on the race. A victory dedicated to our people, who gave us so much support this week. C'mon, City!! pic.twitter.com/1uyKS0eEN6— Sergio Kun Aguero (@aguerosergiokun) April 20, 2019
As City toiled in vain during last week's Champions League epic against Tottenham, Aguero was everywhere – scoring, relentlessly running at defenders and setting up Raheem Sterling for the goal that wasn't.
He felt the natural choice to captain last weekend's domestic rematch with Spurs as Vincent Kompany recuperated. There was another assist, to give former ballboy and current team-mate Phil Foden a moment he will never forget.
As an understandably fraught Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talks slightly spuriously of "United DNA" ahead of a fixture his team do not need, City will confidently take their cues from an attacking leader and club great aiming to improve upon a record of four goals in three derby outings at Old Trafford.
Whatever they go on to accomplish over the coming weeks, Aguero is almost certain to play a decisive role. Where it was once hard to envisage a successful Guardiola team with him as its fulcrum, it is once again impossible to imagine the Premier League champions at their best without Aguero.
20 de mayo 2019
|I love you, I´m out - Departing Kompany has his mic-drop moment in City´s trophy parade|
|Abelardo opts to leave post as Alaves coach|
|Magic Johnson points finger at Pelinka after Lakers power struggle|
|Junaid deletes inflammatory tweet following World Cup squad omission|
|Bosz: Champions League improves chances of keeping Brandt & Havertz|
|PSG insist Mbappe will stay despite forward´s ´new project´ comments|
|Former Salford forward Turgut hospitalised with ´severe injuries´|
|Potter takes over as Brighton and Hove Albion boss|
|Ancelotti happy at Napoli amid Juventus links|
|Hemel Stags on course for Ottawa relocation, New York club a work in progress|
|Nadal overtakes Federer´s top-10 streak|
|Omitting Wahab and Amir would have been foolish - Inzamam|
|Scotland appoint Kilmarnock boss Clarke|
|I´ll keep my place if Pogba arrives at Madrid – Kroos|
|Kroos: Madrid struggles ´normal´ after Champions League dominance|
|Pogba, Hazard and Mbappe in, Bale and Isco out? - Real Madrid set for busy close-season|
|Double amputee Monger stunned by Grand Prix de Pau triumph|
|Walter to take over Stuttgart from next season|
|Giannis expects Milwaukee to buck their ideas up after Game 3 loss|
|Bolivian FA confirms death of referee Victor Hugo Hurtado|
|Australia opener Burns leaves Lancashire for personal reasons|
|Record-breaking female driver Chadwick lands Williams development chance|
|Semedo cleared of concussion to boost Barcelona|
|Iguodala questionable for Game 4|
|Neymar should not captain Brazil at Copa America - Edmilson|
|Wahab, Amir and Asif named in final Pakistan World Cup squad|
|Bale staying at Madrid impossible as Zidane is ´not keen´ - Calderon|
|Kroos agrees Real Madrid extension to 2023|
|Gundogan to renew contract talks with Manchester City|
|Folau opts not to appeal against Rugby Australia ban, still considering options|
|Nadal clear French Open favourite – Djokovic|
|Nedved: No Juve decision amid Sarri and Inzaghi links|
|Gil Marin: We need players totally committed to Atletico|
|Gardner´s big game helps Yankees pull away from Rays|
|This is playoff basketball – Leonard on playing through injury in Raptors win|
|Second most NRL games and 99 tries – Cronk´s career in Opta numbers|
|Spieth: I´m almost back at my best|
|Three takeaways from Raptors´ key Game 3 win over Bucks|
|Trail Blazers star Lillard addresses rib injury|
|Raptors top Bucks in double-OT thriller|
|MLS Review: Nani brace lifts Orlando, Galaxy stunned by Rapids|
|Cronk: It´s been one hell of a ride|
|Johnson upbeat despite falling short|
|Koepka holds on at US PGA – how a dramatic back nine unfolded at Bethpage Black|
|´Phenomenal´ and ´mind-blowing´ – Koepka basks in US PGA triumph|
|NRL great Cronk to retire at season´s end|
|Kevin Muscat to leave Melbourne Victory|
|Bethpage wobble does little to deny Koepka´s status as golf´s dominant major force|
|Brooks Koepka´s timeline of major dominance following US PGA triumph|
|Koepka relieved to retain US PGA title after ´stressful´ finish|
|Allegri seeking a challenge, not a sabbatical|
|Koepka retains PGA title despite back-nine collapse|
|Spalletti tells players to prove they´ve the bottle to play for Inter|
|City want to dominate English football forever, says Laporte|
|Fernando Alonso fails to quality for Indy 500|
|Bordeaux collapse to costly defeat, Stade hopes dashed by Montpellier|
|Valverde pessimistic about Coutinho, Dembele playing in Copa final|
19 de mayo 2019
|Koepka collapse sets up grandstand finale at PGA|
|Everyone would want our situation - De Bruyne not concerned by Champions League failure|
|Mbappe drops PSG exit hint|
|Guardiola: I´ll be judged on Champions League record at Man City|
|Gattuso thankful to Milan penalty hero Donnarumma|
|Johnson cuts Koepka lead to four with nine to play at Bethpage|
|Arthur ´very confident´ in Pakistan CWC hopes despite losing streak|
|Juventus 1 Atalanta 1: Mandzukic spares Allegri from defeat in home finale|
|Napoli 4 Inter 1: Spalletti´s side crushed as Champions League race goes to the wire|
|Woakes: World Cup wait makes for nervy Monday|
|Koepka retains control of PGA after early wobble|
|Tsonga topples Lajovic in Lyon|
|Galatasaray edge derby to retain Super Lig title|