LONDON • Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) are preparing to test Manchester City's resolve by launching an audacious bid to sign Sergio Aguero at the end of the season.
For the first time in 51/2 years at the club, Aguero's place in the City first team is under serious threat. The Argentinian striker has started the past two games on the bench thanks to the excellent form of Gabriel Jesus, who has scored three goals and provided an assist for another in his first two league starts since his £27 million (S$47 million) move from Palmeiras.
"Jesus' got more movement than Aguero. Aguero is a sensational player but you can see already that Pep Guardiola is taking this more in the direction of the team he wants," said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, following the Brazilian's injury-time winner against Swansea on Sunday. "Maybe Aguero isn't quite a fit for him."
Aguero said that he was happy to stay at City after the 2-1 victory at home to Swansea but added that it would be up to the club to decide whether he was sold at the end of the season.
High-ranking City officials on Monday denied that they would consider offers for the marksman in the summer but that may not be enough to stop PSG making an inquiry about him. Aguero is under contract until the summer of 2020 and is valued well in excess of £80 million in today's market, given that compatriot Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus for £75.3 million last July.
The reigning Ligue 1 champions have already held internal discussions about how a deal would be structured and how the club would budget for Aguero's potential wages of around £250,000 a week.
PSG director of football Patrick Kluivert believes that Alexis Sanchez may be a more attainable target, given that the Chile forward has only 18 months left on his contract at Arsenal, but Aguero is in their sights too.
Aguero has scored 18 goals in all competitions for City this season despite missing seven matches through suspension. But Guardiola last month lamented that the striker had not scored against any of the Premier League's top seven teams and has previously suggested that he expects a better work rate from Aguero, particularly when City do not have possession.
In Jesus' first league start at West Ham, he covered more ground - 10.88km - than Aguero has in any appearance this season or last, reported Sky Sports. Against Swansea, Jesus ran 11.12 km.
Senior figures at the Etihad Stadium made it known on Sunday that they hope Jesus' excellent start will help to cajole Aguero into rediscovering his best form in the final three months of the season.
Aguero started the campaign in remarkable form, scoring 11 goals in his first six games. In his past eight appearances, however, he has found the net only twice. Still, he has been the player City has relied on the most in recent seasons.
Pablo Zabaleta insists that his countryman has taken his demotion to the bench in a professional manner.
"He's fine," the City right-back said. "Football is like this - especially with the big squads where you have more than one big player in each position.
"Sergio has been playing for most of the years as first choice. Now we have Gabriel Jesus, who played the last two games and did really well.
"It's good to have two players with that quality. It's always good to have healthy competition in the team - you know you have to perform well to keep your place in the team and that's normal for the big squads."
THE TIMES, LONDON