Manchester City manager explained the reasons why his two strikers have not started together in recent games as the Premier League leaders return to Uefa Champions League duty.
Pep Guardiola: Mendy absence to blame for not pairing Jesus and Aguero together
Pep Guardiola has revealed the unexpected reason why he is reluctant to pair Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus in attack.
The Manchester City manager said that both of his prolific forwards deserve to start but feels the tactical balance of his side has been altered since left-back Benjamin Mendy suffered a serious knee injury.
Aguero and Jesus lined up together in five of City’s opening six fixtures, scoring 10 goals between them in that time. In the three when the attacking full-back Mendy also started, they won 5-0, 4-0 and 6-0.
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But while Fabian Delph has proved a fine deputy for the sidelined Mendy, the differences between the Englishman and the Frenchman, together with Guardiola abandoning the 3-5-2 formation he used at times in the opening weeks, has had a knock-on effect for his two star strikers as he needs to pick a touchline-hugging winger.
“When you have Mendy, he can play wide and the winger can go inside,” he said. “Delph cannot do that. Without Mendy, [winger Leroy] Sane has to go wide, which is why they don’t play together. Now is the toughest decision. Both with different qualities, they deserve to play.”
Guardiola is set to choose between the pair again when Feyenoord visit the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night when “teenagers Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz could be granted a debut and a first start respectively.”
City have already booked a place in the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League but while Guardiola is keen to top the group, changes are anticipated.
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“They are ready,” Guardiola said of the two midfielders. “I think they have the mentality because they are the two guys who want to become football players. It is not easy to find that. They live for their profession. They are two guys who are not scared to play.”
Foden and Diaz have been training with City’s senior squad all season, something which Guardiola feels has helped them acclimatise to the pace of the professional game.
“The skills and quality are there,” he said. “We can help them with speed because the lack of time to take a decision is higher so Phil has to fight duels against Kevin [de Bruyne], against Fernandinho, against [David] Silva.
"Every day is a step to improve. Years ago, people had more time to think. Now it is reduced. The players are faster in all senses, physically and mentally.”
Foden won the Golden Ball as the best player in October’s Under-17 World Cup, which he helped England win.
“Going to the World Cup was perfect for his next step,” Guardiola said. “Playing the quarter final, the semi-final and the final was better than training here or playing in the second team or playing 10 or 20 minutes with us.”
City begin a six-week spell without John Stones, who suffered a hamstring injury in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Leicester City. It means Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi are the only fit centre-backs and Guardiola admits it will provide a test of City’s title credentials.
“We have to play 12 games with only three central defenders and one of them a risk as Vincent is only just back,” he said. “Always when you are champions, you have to handle the big situations and the tough situations. We are going to see how we react in the most important moment of the season.”
Feyenoord’s Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri and Leicester’s Claude Puel are all among the managers who have called City the best team in Europe.
“That doesn’t mean we are favourites to win the Champions League, but it’s nice,” Guardiola said. “That does not mean we have done anything because we haven’t Manchester City still have a big history to build in Europe.”