Guardiola backs Jesus to step up for City with Aguero still battling for fitness
Gabriel Jesus, your time is now. December may just be the month when the Manchester City striker gets the chance to emerge fully from the sidelines.
In a team who have appeared able to score at will for much of the season, Jesus has been a bit-part player, his touch and confidence not at their peak, his opportunities limited by the awesome form of Sergio Aguero.
With the Argentinian struggling for fitness, though, and City playing nine times during the calendar month, Jesus will surely be used more now. Making his first Premier League start for three months in their 3-1 victory over Bournemouth on Saturday, the 21-year-old showed plenty of industry with little end product.
Pep Guardiola, though, retains confidence in him. "It's this work ethic he has," the Manchester City manager said. "Always I said to him that when he puts in the work like he does on the pitch, always we will sustain him."
Jesus said: "I always make it clear for Pep that I'm here to help the team regardless of how."
Aguero, City's 12-goal top scorer, is a doubt for tomorrow's Premier League trip to Watford with the muscle problem that kept him out on Saturday, and Guardiola is not in the mood to risk him unnecessarily, arguing that playing him against Bournemouth would have exacerbated the injury. Not that City are struggling for goals, even without Aguero.
Last season, they scored 106 league goals, at an average of 2.8 per game.
This season, the average is 3.07, with 43 scored in 14 matches. Whisper it, but they might actually be better now than the team who racked up 100 points in May, even though they have been without Kevin De Bruyne for most of the campaign. Just do not suggest to Guardiola that City are better than his Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides were.
"Big words, my friend. Big words," Guardiola said when that possibility was put to him.
Against Bournemouth, Guardiola used David Silva and Riyad Mahrez only as late substitutes, gave John Stones and Kyle Walker the day off, made do without Aguero and De Bruyne, saw his team play fitfully and still came away with a sixth successive league win.
Raheem Sterling was the key to that, dragging City out of their torpor after Callum Wilson's fine header for Bournemouth had equalised Bernardo Silva's opener.
A mazy run from Sterling took out five Bournemouth players before his deflected shot hit the post; unbowed, he then made it 2-1 moments later, striking from close range. Ilkay Gundogan's late third finished the job.
Bournemouth have now suffered four defeats in a row, although the form of striker Wilson suggests it is just a blip.
"It's fine margins," Wilson said. "We've been close against a few of the top teams, but lapses in concentration, lack of quality in the final third, things like that, have let us down at the vital moments and it's eventually cost us." (© Daily Telegraph, London)