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How do Man City cope without Sergio Aguero? Five things Guardiola can try

Manchester City will go into their first major test of the Premier League season without leading scorer Sergio Aguero after the striker was given a three-match ban for elbowing West Ham defender Winston Reid.

Aguero has a great record against United, scoring four times in his past five appearances at Old Trafford and has seven goals against them -- more than any other City player in Premier League history. He's also started the season well: scoring six in four appearances, including a hat trick against Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League, despite missing two penalties.

The 28-year-old is sure to be missed in a big way, and new manager Pep Guardiola may have to get creative to replace him. Here are five options for City to lessen the blow of losing their main man.

1. Show faith in Kelechi Iheanacho

Guardiola's most obvious option is to make a like-for-like change and bring in young Nigeria striker Iheanacho. The 19-year-old has only started one game this season, in Aguero's role as a lone striker in the 1-0 second leg victory over Steaua in a much-changed City team, but he has made an impression late on from the bench.

Indeed, he pressured Sunderland's Vito Mannone into fumbling a cross that led to Paddy McNair's late own goal in the opening day 2-1 victory and then made decisive contributions in Nolito's two late goals in the 4-1 win at Stoke City.

"He is always ready. We will need him. Sergio can't play all season and Kelechi is going to play," Guardiola said after the win at the Bet365 Stadium.

Iheanacho finished last season with five goals in four Premier League matches but has yet to score for City this season. However, he did strike a spectacular 20-yard goal for Nigeria in their African Nations Cup qualifier victory over Tanzania at the weekend.

2. Nolito can play up front

Spain international Nolito has settled into life in England without problem -- scoring three times in four matches including a double at Stoke.

All his appearances have come as a left winger -- though Guardiola's flexible setup allows him to drift inside -- but he is one of a number of City forwards who is able to play anywhere across the front line, and he featured as a central striker at previous club Celta Vigo before his £13.8 million move to the Etihad in the summer.

Nolito scored 12 times in 29 appearances for the Spanish side, which prompted the interest from City as well as La Liga champions Barcelona. The 29-year-old may seem slight compared to the average Premier League striker, but he has quick feet and his intelligence would see him create space and get on the end of sharp, threaded passes from kings of the assists Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva.

3. Throw Leroy Sane into the mix

Young Germany international Sane has not yet featured for City after picking up a hamstring injury shortly after arriving for £37m from Schalke this summer. It has been eight years since a City striker scored in a derby win on their debut at Old Trafford -- Benjani did it then in 2008 to become an instant cult hero -- and there would hardly be a better way for Sane to ingratiate himself to the City fans than with a similar impact at Old Trafford.

The 20-year-old usually plays on the wing or behind the striker but he has plenty of pace and skill and Guardiola could give him an opportunity as a central striker, given that he found the net nine times last season.

Sane is not afraid of the big stage either, given that his breakthrough performance came at the Bernabeu in 2015 when he was superb as Schalke beat Real Madrid 4-3 -- but fell just short of knocking out the Spanish giants.

Leroy Sane
Sane can burst onto the scene in the derby.

4. Go for a false No. 9

When Spain recorded an historic third successive major title at the European Championship in 2012, they did so without a recognised striker -- preferring instead to use midfielder Cesc Fabregas. It was the beginning of the "false No. 9" position -- a striker who drops deep into midfield rather than leading the line, with central midfielders moving beyond him if required.

Although not blessed with the best strike rate, Silva played that role at times for Spain during that period while De Bruyne would appear to be a more natural fit for the position at City.

Silva only has one goal this season while De Bruyne is yet to find the net, but both are extremely intelligent footballers and Guardiola would have no hesitancy in turning to either if he wanted to use that system.

5. Use a flexible front line

City finished the game against West Ham without a recognised striker on the pitch and various players moved into the middle as they looked for a killer third, which ultimately came via Raheem Sterling.

Samir Nasri, who has since left the club to join Sevilla on a season-long loan, twice found himself in the striker's position and was unfortunate not to score. Similarly, Silva and Sterling took up positions in a central role.

With so much energy and quality in his attackers, Guardiola may choose to trust his players to move between roles and make it difficult for United to identify who they are defending against.

Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.


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