Standout Gabriel Jesus showing sends Pep Guardiola a message, sets Man City for Champions League success

MANCHESTER, England (AP) – Pep Guardiola’s fringe players failed to find success in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, but they emerged at a crucial time in the season to give the Manchester City boss a timely boost.

Just 24 hours after Guardiola said his team were “in trouble” due to a combination of injuries and exhaustion, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Fernandinho stepped out of the shadows to help City to a comfortable 5-1 win over Watford at the Etihad Stadium help . With that, Man City put renewed pressure on Liverpool’s shoulders in the race to win the Premier League and rested key players ahead of Real Madrid’s Champions League visit to Manchester on Tuesday. job done.

Jesus, who started just his third time in 2022, scored four goals and scored once more for Rodri, which made Guardiola think twice about leaving the Brazilian on the bench.

Zinchenko, making his fifth start in a competition since Boxing Day, set up the first for Jesus, scoring 1-0 in the last minute by Emmanuel Dennis, who was so good it was worth a goal himself while Fernandinho, who hadn’t started a league game since February, did what Fernandinho always does in midfield.

None of the three will surely have a place in the Champions League semi-final first leg in three days’ time, but even if they don’t play they have already played their part.

While the trio were busy ensuring City were four points clear at the top of the Premier League table, the likes of Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan were allowed to spend a rare afternoon on the bench . Of the players in the starting XI, Kevin De Bruyne was needed for less than an hour, followed shortly thereafter by Aymeric Laporte.

Expect the usual starters to be all fresh and ready to take on Real Madrid on Tuesday.

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“We started well from the first minute of the first and second halves,” said Guaridola. “We didn’t defend well, we weren’t aggressive enough. But the players up front, not just Gabriel for his incredible four goals, but everyone was brilliant.

“When we won against Brighton [on Wednesday] We were two points behind, now we’re four up. Brighton was a final. We had another final today and we won it. Now we have the opportunity to play a final against Leeds.

“Nothing changes. We have to win all five games to become champions.”

Jesus may feel he’s done enough to face Real Madrid and last but not least, he’s given Guardiola something to think about.

The Brazilian has been the subject of speculation linking him with a summer move from Etihad – possibly to Arsenal or Juventus – and against Watford he did everything he could to add another zero to a possible fee.

By the time 53 minutes was on the clock he had scored four goals and assisted one and City were 5-1 in cruise control. Three were goals from poachers from a total distance of around 15 yards – one a header from a De Bruyne cross – and the other was a penalty he won himself.

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The role of Jesus in Rodri’s goal is likely to please Guardiola even more. He struggled and cornered himself, winning the ball back and clipping it to the edge of the box for the Spain midfielder to bounce into the net.

“Today was my day,” said Jesus.

“We played very well today, we created a lot of chances, we have to do that.”

“It was my first hat-trick in the Premier League. I tried. Sometimes I scored two goals, then hit a post, the defender blocked or the keeper saved, but today was my day.”

Jesus has a knack for scoring important goals – he’s managed it against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain this season alone – and scored home and away against Real Madrid as City defeated the Spanish giants from the Champions League ousted in the Champions League round of 16 in 2020. His audition for a starting role on Tuesday could not have gone much better.

“If there’s one person who deserves the best in life for him, his family and his friends, it’s Gabriel,” Guardiola added.

“All of us at the club are happy for him when he’s in one of those situations because he’s so generous. It doesn’t matter what position he’s going to play in, we know how he fights for his mates. He’s fantastic.” .”

After a busy season, City may be seven games away from a double in the Premier League and Champions League. But ahead of a major European semi-final with Real Madrid, Guardiola was able to hold onto his leg in the title race while also saving the legs of a number of key players.

It’s a phase of the season when every little thing counts and a squad Guardiola assumed was running with vapors were given a timely break without deviating from the track.

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