LONDON — We got a glimpse of Manchester City’s future in their 4-0 win at West Ham United on Wednesday.
And it looked sparkling.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]
Post-game at the London Stadium Pep Guardiola could hardly contain his excitement when speaking about the form of young forwards Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus as they carved open West Ham’s defense time and time again with their pace and intense pressing which kept forcing turnovers.
“These three guys are the future for the club. All of them, their average age is just 20 years old. You cannot see in Europe at the big clubs, there are not strikers as young as Man City have. That is good for the future of the club,” Guardiola said. “We are delighted because Sane is already a part of the team. He arrived a little bit like ‘where am I?’ and now his performance in the last three or four months showed us his potential.”
Asked about 19-year-old forward Gabriel Jesus — the Brazilian international scored and grabbed an assist in an impressive first start in the Premier League — Guardiola believes this is only the beginning for the striker they signed for $34 million from Palmeiras.
“He helps us a lot in the first press. He is so intense, so aggressive in that moment,” Guardiola said. “In the long balls he is a fighter and he is able to keep going and fight against guys taller than him. Of course he is young. We can’t forget he is just 19 years old. But he is a striker for Brazil, because in the first assist against Crystal Palace he gave it to Sterling, today it was to Kevin. He is a guy who when he arrives there he will attack the ball and he will score goals.”
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Alongside 22-year-old Raheem Sterling and 21-year-old Leroy Sane, Jesus led a devastating forward line which is set to terrorize defenses for years to come.
Even though they are 10 points off leaders Chelsea (Guardiola played down their title chances this season) in attack things are slotting together superbly, even if defensively there are still big issues to sort out. That was always going to be why Guardiola would get more time to overhaul this ageing City team despite poor results littering his first-ever campaign as a Premier League manager.
His team has shown in big wins throughout this season that his philosophy is working, but they need to be more consistent. With this young forward line they looked fluid, in-sync and fired up.
Sergio Aguero’s shocked expression on the bench said it all after the third goal went in. He knows he has massive competition to keep his place in the team with Gabriel breathing down his neck and the Argentine international perhaps has the strongest competitor for a starting spot that he’s ever had since arriving at the Etihad Stadium.
With Kevin De Bruyne in an attacking midfield role, the fluid three of Jesus, Sane and Sterling interchanged and tore West Ham’s creaking defense apart with clever runs, inch-perfect passes and high-pressing. That’s the future of City under Guardiola as he finally has a first line of defense which can force opponents into mistakes and then punish them. He hasn’t always had that with Aguero and Co. up top.
Aguero isn’t the only member of City’s old guard to sense change in the air.
Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta joined Aguero on the bench, yet Guardiola poured cold water on suggestions that Aguero would have to spend more time on the bench in the coming weeks and emphasized his importance to the team. It isn’t quite time for the old guard to pass the baton but it’s getting there. This moment has been coming for City.
[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Man City v. West Ham ]
Guardiola also emphasized impressed he was with the high-pressing of his young attacking talent, plus the shield Yaya Toure provided.
“Every time we win the ball we had three strikers so so quick, so Leroy, Gabriel and Raheem make runs in-behind and it was so so dangerous,” Guardiola said. “When people want make high-pressing we are able to eliminate the first step and create a chance. Yaya was again exceptional and helps us a lot for the future and the next games.”
Toure is rolling back the years in midfield but up front Gabriel has burst onto the scene with plenty of promise. Guardiola wasn’t 100 percent certain what he would be getting when the Brazilian teenager arrived in January fresh from winning the Brazilian title with Palmeiras.
It’s safe to say he’s happy with how things are developing.
“You never know. It is like a watermelon. You have to open it and see how it turns out,” Guardiola said of Jesus. “The perspective was good. That is why we pushed him. He is a young, young talent. He has a huge mentality. So aggressive, he wants to become a good player and when that happens that helps a lot. When he has dreams and something to do in the future in his own career, that helps a lot. Gabriel, in those terms, he wants to become something in world football and of course we are going to try to get it for us.”
On this showing, City’s young front three have the potential to push them to the very top of world football and become something Guardiola has dreamed of.
He’s getting there, with the youngsters leading the way.