Pep Guardiola faces a double selection quandary as he prepares for an FA Cup fifth round visit to in-form Championship club Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
The Manchester City manager, still active on three fronts as he seeks silverware in his first season in the English game, will be without injured Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus who broke a metatarsal in this week’s league victory at Bournemouth.
The talented teenager, who had scored three goals in as many league games since his January arrival, may not play again this season, with estimates putting his rehabilitation period at two to three months. Jesus has been flown to Barcelona to undergo treatment with Ramon Cugat, the City manager’s physician of choice who has overseen the rehabilitation of a number of the club’s players this season.
But Guardiola’s decision as to Jesus’s replacement is complicated by the looming Champions League last 16 first leg tie with French club Monaco, which takes place at the Etihad on Tuesday.
Thereafter, and assuming they do not have to schedule an FA Cup replay with Huddersfield, City have a 12-day break until they are in action in a league visit to struggling Sunderland on March 5, with Guardiola using that opportunity to take his players to Abu Dhabi for a period of warm weather training.
– ‘Sergio important’ –
But, before then, Guardiola must decide whether to recall talismanic veteran Sergio Aguero as Jesus’s replacement — and run the potential risk of an injury ruling him out of the Monaco game — or recall Nigerian understudy Kelechi Iheanacho who, despite a prolific scoring record, appears to have fallen out of favour with Guardiola in recent weeks.
Aguero appears likely to win the battle for selection and be granted his first start since Jesus broke into the first team picture with an exhilarating appearance when he came on as a substitute against Tottenham on January 21.
After the victory over Bournemouth, Guardiola acknowledged the important role he expects Aguero to fill over the remainder of the season.
“I know how important Sergio is,” he said. “I did yesterday, the day before, the last week, the last month.”
Meanwhile, Jesus’s team mate and countryman Fernandinho has revealed he is hopeful the striker may be able to return before the end of the season.
“He was treading badly with his right foot, but we will see what the doctors will say,” said Fernandinho. “We are all hoping it was nothing serious and hopefully he can come back as soon as possible.”
Guardiola has fielded strong line-ups in the FA Cup until this fifth round stage and the game also appears a perfect opportunity for captain Vincent Kompany, who started the fourth round win at Crystal Palace to continue his comeback from injury. Huddersfield, meanwhile, will be without their influential Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy who is on loan from City and forbidden by FA rules from playing against his parent club in the competition.
Huddersfield manager David Wagner, who has led his club to within four points of automatic promotion to a top flight they last occupied in 1972, admits he will rotate his squad with a place in the Premier League far more important than a possible place in the sixth round of the cup.
“We didn’t do it only in the Cup, also since the beginning of December when we started our rotation,” he said. “We don’t have the biggest squad or budget, so to keep everybody healthy, we have rotated for 10-12 weeks. “It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, it is if it makes sense for the next game and we will probably make changes against City.”