Gabriel Jesus affirms Pep Guardiola’s faith in his Manchester City vision
Manchester City have already beaten Swansea twice this season and at the Etihad they normally manage to score a few goals against Sunday’s opponents, though Pep Guardiola is aware things have changed under Paul Clement and recognises that a team capable of winning at Anfield might offer more resistance than West Ham’s impression of a doormat in midweek.
Just when it appeared the final placings within the top six would be settled by the results of games between top six sides, up popped Watford and Hull at the Emirates and Old Trafford respectively to suggest otherwise.
City now have a relatively placid period, with only one game per week until the Champions League resumes later this month, and Guardiola is keen to cash in. “We need to make victories in a row,” he said. “If we want to fight until the end of the season, we need to make sure we don’t let any more points slip in the next couple of weeks.
“We have won more points away from home this season. We dropped points against Everton and Middlesbrough but we were unlucky against Chelsea and Tottenham. I think we are showing more consistency at the moment, we put in a huge performance against Tottenham even though we only got a point and we have won our two games since. We can be confident going into the game against Swansea but we know it will be tough. They are in a good moment.”
City are on something of a hot streak too, especially with the exciting Gabriel Jesus now assimilated into the side. The teenager announced his arrival in some style with a goal and an assist in the 4-0 thrashing of West Ham, though it was his previous visit to London that impressed City watchers anxious to see what all the fuss was about.
Playing in a hail storm at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, making his first start in England in the most inhospitable conditions imaginable for a boy fresh from Brazil, Jesus put in a full shift, working hard, tracking back, even making a goal. That convinced everyone he was made of the right stuff, unlikely to be daunted by unfamiliar challenges. Guardiola claims to have known all along he would be physically strong enough for England.
“We cannot forget he is only 19 and he has only played a total of two games and nine minutes,” the City manager pointed out. “But we always knew he was physically strong, he’s a fighter. Brazilian football is physical. People talk about the technical skills but I played with many Brazilians at Barcelona and I have managed many more and their biggest quality is how strong they are. Fernandinho and Fernando at this club are good examples of that. They are both amazingly strong.”
City knew what they were getting, having watched Jesus on a number of occasions, though they did not realise he would be holding down a regular place for Brazil by the time he flew out to join his new team in Manchester. “That in itself tells you a lot,” Guardiola said. “He’s a striker for the national team of Brazil and that is not such an easy thing to accomplish when you are only 19. He’s keeping out some huge players up front.”
Jesus might soon be doing the same at City, for by his own admission his introduction to English football has gone surprisingly well.
“I have to say it’s going much better than I expected,” he said. “When I spoke to players who had played in the Premier League they said it was going to be very difficult, so I told myself I would have to work hard to achieve my goals. That’s what I always do and that’s what I have been doing every day since I came to Manchester. I try to make each day matter, and I am grateful to my teammates for welcoming me and helping me settle in. I am a bit surprised about my beginning here, the way the games have gone, but because I have put in the work I am prepared.”
Jesus is already learning English, at his own request, which his club see as another good sign. “He speaks English well enough to be understood already but he wants to improve so he can be fully involved on the pitch,” Guardiola said. “He wants to know what the other players are saying.”
What some of the City players are bound to be saying is that Sergio Agüero is no longer guaranteed a place if the new arrival can slot in so effectively. Guardiola is currently enthusing about his main striker more than he ever did before in an attempt to prevent people drawing the obvious conclusion, even insisting that Jesus could play on the left to accommodate Agüero in the centre, though quite apart from the ages of the two players – Agüero is almost 10 years older – one had only to see the flexibility and movement of City’s new-look attack at West Ham to gain a likely glimpse of the future.
While Agüero remains a reliable finisher, Guardiola does not want his team to have such a narrow focus of attack or to play in a predictable way. He has spoken in the past of wanting more from his leading scorer, he even dropped him for the match against Barcelona at Camp Nou and the results this season have been mixed, not helped by Agüero serving two suspensions. That is part of the reason Agüero has slipped down the list of leading scorers to seventh. Another is that relatively few chances have come the striker’s way in recent games.
Guardiola has frequently been heard complaining about his side’s inability to take enough of their chances, though it has not been a criticism aimed specifically at Agüero. Usually it has been Raheem Sterling, David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne at fault in front of goal but, when the running and interpassing of Jesus and Leroy Sané are added to that mix, City possess an almost unrivalled ability to outfox opponents and pass the ball into the net.
It would be silly to read too much into a victory over a feeble West Ham side who have now conceded nine goals to City in under a month, but that sort of football, the type that makes variables such as shooting and crossing almost obsolete and exhausts defenders unable to keep up with the continuous recirculation, is the closest yet seen to what made Guardiola famous in the first place. With typical frankness the manager has just accepted his side are not guaranteed a place in next season’s Champions League but, if they can hold their nerve over the next few weeks, they could do a lot to improve their position.
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