Has Nolito done enough to warrant a place in Manchester City's starting XI?
Having started the first two games of the season, at home to Sunderland and away at Steau Bucharest, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Pep Guardiola’s first signing on the bench at the Bet365 Stadium as Manchester City faced Stoke. However, Nolito more than made his point, replacing Jesus Navas to score two goals and put the tie to bed after Mark Hughes’ team had threatened to equalise.
Becoming the first Premier League player to score two goals as a substitute since Liverpool’s Divock Origi in April, the former Celta Vigo winger showed to Pep Guardiola exactly what he can bring to the side with direct dribbling and attacking prowess that made Erick Pieters uncomfortable from the moment he came on.
In scoring his second goal in injury time to complete the scoring at 4-1, the 29-year-old notched his third in a Manchester City shirt in just three games, and his second Premier League goal in just 80 minutes of action. For context, Jesus Navas, who replaced him in the starting line-up, has to go back 5,648 minutes (almost 63 games) to find two goals in his record.
In fact, the Spaniard scored with his very first shot on target in the Premier League, and currently sits as the club’s second top scorer with three goals in three games, and has also provided one assist to top scorer Sergio Aguero – who has six goals to his name already this campaign.
These stats will not come as a shock to Pep Guardiola, who gave Nolito his debut at Barcelona and sought a reunion with him this summer. However, this makes it even more surprising that Nolito is yet to complete 90 minutes in the Premier League, having been replaced by Jesus Navas on the opening day and dropped for the trip to Sunderland.
There is stiff competition out wide on the City flanks, with the likes of Jesus Navas and Raheem Sterling fighting for a shirt, but Nolito has proven himself already to be by far the most clinical of the three.
With Sterling now without a goal in his last ten Manchester City appearances, his longest drought since joining the club from Liverpool, and Navas’ current run without goal reaching 26 matches, it is clear that hitting the back of the net is an issue for the rest of the wide players at Guardiola’s disposal.
With Sergio Aguero on fire this season already, goals may not be the main concern for Pep Guardiola, but Nolito is also the best creator. With a record of 12 assists in 29 league games for Celta last season, Navas managed seven in 34 and Sterling had just two in 31. On paper, Nolito is the clear first choice.
In reality though, there is more to it. Nolito is guilty of sometimes being lazy to track back and help out his full-back, something which many players in La Liga get away with. In the Premier League, wingers are not afforded that luxury, and it may take some time for the Spaniard to adapt if he is to provide the support that Gael Clichy or Aleksander Kolarov need.
What is clear is that Nolito will continue to prove his doubters wrong from the bench if need be, and that if the blue half of Manchester are in search of goals, then; other than Sergio Aguero, he is the man to go to. As he nears his 30th birthday, the pressure will be on Nolito to maintain this form long term, but with Guardiola managing his game time, there is no reason to believe that he won’t be able to.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Christine Sanjaya.
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