Monday 21 January 2019

Pep praises Jesus as striking return to form highlights family matters

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

James Ducker

Gabriel Jesus returned to the dressing room at half-time on Saturday to find a missed call from his mother, and another at full-time after Manchester City's 3-1 win over Everton.

Vera Lucia Diniz de Jesus rings her son whenever he scores for City, but those couple of calls will have felt particularly special for the Brazil striker - not just because his struggles in front of goal this season have meant she has not had to pick up the phone too often.

No, it was extra special because his mother was in the stadium to watch him bludgeon Everton in the flesh, not 6,000 miles away in Sao Paulo, and not on some fleeting visit either.

Some will consider it a coincidence that Jesus ended his four-month wait for a Premier League goal in the week his immediate family finally moved to Manchester for good, but the player saw it differently.

"My confidence is back because my family is here and it helps me a lot," he said. "I need my family in this moment."

As well as his mother, Jesus's two older brothers, two-year-old nephew and a couple of close friends arrived in Manchester last week and Pep Guardiola, who has made a concerted effort to talk up his second-choice striker even when his form raised concerns, believes it could be just the spur the 21-year-old needed.

"We can't forget that football players are human beings and many have the talent but are in bad form because of personal issues," Guardiola said.

"Maybe getting divorced, things not going well at home, problems with their mum, dad, whatever, and that can influence things a lot on the pitch, more than people can imagine or expect.

"That's why Gabriel has that feeling that, with his family here, he will be calmer, better. I could not live without my family.

"I have always had the feeling he's a good lad in the locker room. He's always with Bernardo (Silva), and especially the Brazilian guys, always chatting, laughing, making jokes, but it will be good for him having his family here.

"Being alone, a young player - I don't think he's got a girlfriend - so to have his family here will be important. I think it's going to help him."

There was a conviction to the way Jesus took both his goals - sweeping one shot inside Jordan Pickford's near post and later powering a header past the Everton goalkeeper - that has seldom been in evidence of late.

Everton did rally, pulling a goal back through Dominic Calvert-Lewin, before Raheem Sterling restored City's two-goal cushion three minutes after coming off the bench, but the visitors squandered chances late on.

It was around this time last year that Jesus's troubles began with a knee injury sustained against Crystal Palace.

Soon after, a couple of family members had to return to Brazil due to visa issues and while City would go on to win the title in record-breaking fashion, Jesus disappointed at the World Cup and those struggles continued this season.

It seemed a reflection of his poor form that, in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero, Guardiola elected to start Sterling at centre-forward over Jesus against Chelsea, but the Everton match saw a striking return to form.

It is a relatively minor point, but Guardiola also thought it was telling that Jesus chose the week his family set up in Manchester to conduct his first interview in English.

"I insist on the players having to learn English because sometimes I have the feeling he maybe doesn't understand me when I speak in English, so it's important to have that feeling that he's speaking English much better," Guardiola said.

Jesus's return to form coincided with Kevin de Bruyne's comeback as a substitute from a six-week injury lay-off.

With Aguero also on the bench after missing the past four matches with a muscle problem, Guardiola has the cavalry coming back for Christmas.

De Bruyne can see the title race going to the wire with Liverpool. "I think they will go on to the end," he said. "They'll try to keep pace with us and vice versa, but it's still early." (© The Daily Telegraph)

Telegraph.co.uk

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