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Kelechi Iheanacho proved his worth in place of Sergio Aguero… so, is the young striker Manchester City’s long-term option up front?

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Kelechi Iheanacho proved his worth in place of Sergio Aguero… so, is the young striker Manchester City’s long-term option up front?

NEWISSUES, Abuja

  • Kelechi Iheanacho scored the winning goal against Manchester United
  • He has had a sensational year for his club since making his senior debut
  • Iheanacho scores more per minute than any player in the Premier League
  • With Sergio Aguero absent, Iheanacho can force his way into City’s plans
  • Pep Guardiola had an excellent record for youth development at Barcelona

When Manchester City’s academy staff arrived at the impressive Etihad Campus on Monday morning, they will almost certainly have taken satisfaction from their role in a derby win.

Sheikh Mansour’s money has been spent on a number of elite talents since he took over the club in 2009, but it has also been poured into youth development.

While a number of other talents are starting to bloom at that level, the first team has already been impacted by the academy’s output. Kelechi Iheanacho may have only joined in 2014, but he benefited from a year with the youth team, including a run to the FA Youth Cup final, in which he scored.

Kelechi Iheanacho is already the most impressive output of Manchester City's Etihad Campus

Kelechi Iheanacho is already the most impressive output of Manchester City’s Etihad Campus

Iheanacho scored the winning goal against Manchester United on Saturday afternoon

Iheanacho scored the winning goal against Manchester United on Saturday afternoon

Without his strike, City would not have collected three points against their bitter rivals. Without his assist for Kevin De Bruyne, they may never have broken the deadlock.

Iheanacho has come into the team at an interesting time. Pep Guardiola is famed for his willingness to give young players an opportunity, having done so while under great pressure to succeed in his first season at Barcelona – both Sergio Busquets and Thiago Alcantara were beneficiaries. He handed a debut to at least five players from La Masia in every one of his seasons at the Nou Camp.

The forward has impressed for City since making his senior debut for the side in August 2015

The forward has impressed for City since making his senior debut for the side in August 2015

SHOT CONVERSION RATE (PLAYED MORE THAN FIVE GAMES) 
Premier League forwards (since 2015-16) Shot conversion rate (per cent)
Marcus Rashford 50
Kelechi Iheanacho 40.91
Callum Wilson 40
Benik Afobe 33.33
Divock Origi 29.41
Danny Ings 28.57
Jermain Defoe 26.98
Jamie Vardy 26
Sergio Aguero 25.96

Sergio Aguero was suspended for the derby after elbowing Winston Reid in the game against West Ham. He will also be out for the game against Bournemouth and the EFL Cup match with Swansea.

With few alternative options up front, Guardiola is almost certain to select Iheanacho for the two games Aguero is not available for.

It could be a real opportunity for the 19-year-old to force himself into Guardiola’s line-up. He is already a staggering goalscorer. One shot was all he needed on Saturday to score.

That sort of conversion rate is reflected across all of his appearances – he has struck home from just over 40 per cent of his shots in the Premier League. That rate is only bettered by Marcus Rashford.

Iheanacho's conversion rate since the start of last season is only topped by Marcus Rashford

Iheanacho’s conversion rate since the start of last season is only topped by Marcus Rashford

A run in the first team would also give Iheanacho something he has not really had since making his senior bow – minutes.

Always something of an afterthought under Manuel Pellegrini, who tended to select Wilfried Bony ahead of him if Aguero was absent, Iheanacho has only managed 821 minutes in the top flight.

In that time he has scored nine goals in the Premier League, managing one every 91.22 minutes – a better record than every other player since 2015-16.

The 19-year-old has a better goals per minute rate than any other player since summer 2015

The 19-year-old has a better goals per minute rate than any other player since summer 2015

MINUTES PER GOAL 
Premier League forwards since 2015-16 Minutes played Minutes per goal
Kelechi Iheanacho 821 91.22
Sergio Aguero 2,634 97.56
Jamie Vardy 3,499 134.58
Daniel Sturridge 1,122 140.25
Harry Kane 3,703 142.42

He even tops Aguero’s record. The Argentine is the second-best player in the charts, scoring every 97.56 minutes in the league.

The stats are there for Iheanacho, and the performances increasingly are too. He often looks a threat in the area, with his movement off the ball allowing him to latch onto any opportunities that arise courtesy of City’s brilliant creative players.

It was that ability to poach chances that gave him his goal against United. He was the quickest to react in the box when De Bruyne’s effort rebounded off the post.

He showed his off the ball ability by reacting quickest to the rebound to score on Saturday

He showed his off the ball ability by reacting quickest to the rebound to score on Saturday

He is also capable of fulfilling the duties of the modern striker, able to hold the ball up using a physique that belies his age. Iheanacho is a decent passer for a striker, averaging 78 per cent pass accuracy over this season.

A reality that Iheanacho will be well aware of is that Aguero is also likely to miss more games over the rest of the season – he has struggled with injury ever since he moved to the Etihad. Last season he missed 56 days of action, a total of 12 games.

That means the opportunities will be there for Iheanacho, who is no longer just a young player to throw on for experience.

Iheanacho has time on his side in his quest to prove his worth to manager Pep Guardiola

Iheanacho has time on his side in his quest to prove his worth to manager Pep Guardiola

He is a bona fide second choice striker at an elite club, one who has proven his worth whenever he has been given a chance.

More will come. The task now for the youngster is to set his sights as high as possible. While it may be difficult to supplant Aguero as first choice, Iheanacho has time on his side.

Performances like Saturday’s will show Guardiola that he may have a striking option in place for the long term.

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