Just as Pep Guardiola might have thought his personnel problems were easing with the return to training of Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, the injury curse has struck again with Sergio Aguero ruled out of the Manchester derby.
Aguero hobbled out of the victory over Chelsea at the weekend with a thigh injury and Guardiola confirmed yesterday he will miss the United game at the Etihad on December 7 — leaving Gabriel Jesus as the club’s only fit striker for tonight’s Champions League clash with Shakhtar Donetsk.
It is a golden chance for the Brazilian, with Aguero set for a number of weeks on the sidelines. Jesus has scored five goals in eight starts this season and his manager has constantly referred to the 22-year-old as one of the best back-up strikers in world football.
‘I’m not happy that Gabriel doesn’t (normally) play, that’s not news,’ Guardiola said. ‘I understand that. But what’s important is the day after how he trains. He never missed or failed one training session in bad condition or bad behaviour.
‘That’s why when he says he wants to learn, he wants to work, it’s the truth, that’s the reality. He’s an incredible guy and I think they respect each other. It’s not easy. We will miss Sergio but in Gabriel we have a star in that position. When he arrived, his energy, his impact immediately seduced us.
‘My advice to him was that if you are not sure about that position, you don’t have to extend the contract, you can go other places. He said, “No, I want to stay here”. He has his future is in his hands.’
Guardiola (below) has deployed Raheem Sterling as a central striker in the past — notably away at Chelsea last season — but appears ready to award Jesus a sustained run.
It also opens the door to City’s young attackers to make an impression, with Ian Carlo Poveda and Adrian Bernabe having already made first-team debuts. Jayden Braaf, a 17-year-old Dutch winger, has also earned rave reviews from academy staff in recent months.
Jesus has been vocal about a lack of playing time, although has always been at pains to stress that he is behind one of the finest frontmen in Europe. ‘Of course, I’m ready to play,’ Jesus said. ‘When I came to City I knew it would be hard because they had Sergio.
‘I have a chance to play with Pep and top players at a big club, that’s why I came. I’ve learned a lot from Sergio. I want to improve my football. Every day I want to improve and learn and train well and work hard. I think I have to do it all the time because I am in a big club with big players, a big manager, so I have to work and improve.’
Guardiola has Rodri and David Silva available tonight despite the midfielders struggling with cramp on Saturday, but there may be the opportunity for Phil Foden to start. A draw takes them through to the last 16 and a win would guarantee they top the group.
The City boss insisted injuries cannot be used as an excuse for failure. ‘My advice to the players and myself is not to think too much, don’t look at the massage room and see which players we have,’ he added. ‘We have enough good players, enough quality and the mentality is going to give us extra. Maybe it will help us. In some positions we are weak for the absence of players. We must find a solution with the players we have, from the academy, and that’s all.’