Pep Guardiola admits the impact of Gabriel Jesus has surprised him but expects the Brazilian to lead Manchester City’s attack for years to come.
The 20-year-old striker has made a big impression since joining City from Palmeiras in January, despite being sidelined for more than two months with a broken foot.
Jesus struck three times in his first five appearances before the injury and then netted on his first start since recovering in last weekend’s draw at Middlesbrough.
Attention will fall on Jesus on Saturday as he leads the line against Crystal Palace in the Premier League with top scorer Sergio Aguero out injured.
City manager Guardiola said: “Before we got him we expected a lot of things, but not that impact as soon as possible. He will be the future striker in this club for the next years.”
Guardiola did not directly compare Jesus to Lionel Messi, the five-time world player of the year he famously managed at Barcelona, but he did mention him in the same breath.
Speaking at a press conference to preview the Palace clash, the Catalan said: “The good ones make a good impact. Messi, for example, at 18, 19 years old he scored 40 league goals in a year.
“The top players are top players.
“Sometimes we talk about needing more time and you have to give that time. Some players come here in the Premier League and the first and second season are difficult and then, wow — explosion.
“The other ones, they are positive, they are mentally strong, they have skill, they arrive and go wow! It’s done.
“When we decided to buy Gabriel, Gabriel had a lot of ‘girlfriends’ (suitors) to go (to), a lot of teams. But he decided to come here, which was so happy for us. I’m very pleased with that.”
While Jesus will provide the attacking focus, in defence City captain Vincent Kompany is set to start a fifth successive game.
It has been a frustrating, injury-hit campaign for the influential Belgian who made just five appearances before April.
The 31-year-old’s numerous problems have led to speculation over his future but he has dealt with the setbacks positively and is optimistic for the future.
Kompany said: “It’s been frustrating but at the same time I have somehow kept improving and kept learning.
“I think it’s a weakness of a lot of players to believe that improving or learning is linked to being fit or playing for your team. With the right mindset you can always improve and I’ve done that.
“It hasn’t been terrific for me when it comes to game time but it’s still been a special season and it could be a season that sets me up for a great season next year.
“That’s what I keep fighting for because when you play at this level just one season can yield incredible results.”
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