Gabriel Jesus returns to Premier League action following a triumphant international outing with Brazil, uncertain over his starting place in a Manchester City side that could be just two games from clinching the title.
The 20-year-old forward scored the only goal of the friendly between Brazil and world champions Germany on Tuesday, suggesting that after spending the first two months of 2018 recovering from a knee injury, he could be about to enjoy a breakout tournament at the World Cup.
Such a scenario could be a factor in the postponing of talks with City over a contract extension, part of a process that Pep Guardiola’s club has undertaken with all its key young assets of late.
Having initially seemed keen to sign an extension to a deal that, in any case, keeps Jesus with City until 2022, the player has let it be known that he wants to delay negotiations until the close season.
The official reason behind the delay is that Jesus wishes to concentrate on a club campaign that could yet see City add the Champions League to the League Cup title and the Premier League crown, which they could clinch in next weekend’s Manchester derby.
But the timing of the decision also opens up the possibility that Jesus is banking on emerging from the Russia World Cup with his reputation even higher than it currently stands.
City remain relaxed about the situation given that the striker, signed for a bargain £27 million from Palmeiras in the summer of 2016, is still contracted to the Etihad for four years.
However, reports suggest that Jesus’s current deal is worth around £65 000 a week and, while current talks have reportedly focused on a figure of £100 000, an outstanding World Cup could see the player’s market value soar even higher.
In the shorter term, Jesus must wait to see if Guardiola keeps him in his starting line-up for Saturday’s visit to Everton, with Sergio Aguero making good progress from a knee injury that ruled him out of City’s last fixture, a 2-0 win at Stoke more than two weeks ago.
Aguero joined up with the Argentina squad that was based in Manchester over the first half of the recent international break and took part in light training while undergoing treatment with City’s medical staff.
And Guardiola won a minor battle with the national team to allow the 29-year-old forward to remain in Manchester for treatment this week, rather than have to fly to Spain with the Argentina squad.
Aguero, City’s all-time leading goal-scorer, stands on 199 goals for the club he joined in July 2011 and has been waiting for his elusive double century since scoring in the League Cup final victory over Arsenal in late February.
Should the Argentine, who this week declared that he will return to his boyhood club Independente at the end of his current City contract in 2020, be declared fit, Guardiola must decide whether to recall him in place of Jesus, who has started the team’s past two games, his first starts since injuring his knee at Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve.
Guardiola’s team lost 4-0 at Goodison Park last year, comfortably the worst result and performance of the Catalan’s reign in charge at the club but things are very different this season.
Victory on Saturday would see Guardiola lead his side into the Manchester derby seven days later knowing a win would assure him of his first Premier League title.