The performance of Gabriel Jesus in Manchester City’s 2-1 Champions League victory over 13-times winners Real Madrid has given manager Pep Guardiola great heart as he seeks to end the club’s quest for the coveted crown.
The 23-year-old Brazilian made light of the absence of talismanic striker Sergio Aguero and followed up his impressive display in the last 16 first leg win by the same scoreline in Madrid with a match-winning contribution at the Etihad on Friday night.
Guardiola’s side face Lyon next Saturday in Lisbon in a one-off quarter-final after the French side eliminated Juventus.
City with all their firepower might be seen as favourites but recent history suggests otherwise with Lyon having beaten them 2-1 in Manchester and then drawn 2-2 at home in last season’s Group stage.
The club’s record goalscorer Aguero — who was an unused substitute in the first leg back in February — is undergoing treatment for a knee injury in Barcelona.
Guardiola, though, feels that Jesus’s performances has given an extra pep in the team’s step after a disappointing defence of their Premier League title.
He believes with the confidence gained by Jesus in getting the better of the Spanish giants this can be a launching pad to at last triumph in a competition they have failed to shine in the past despite the enormous investment by the Abu Dhabi owners.
Their best showing is the 2016 semi-finals under Guardiola’s predecessor Manuel Pellegrini.
“He’s (Jesus) the man of the match for these two games, he was decisive for us,” said Guardiola in the warm afterglow of the victory.
“He helped us when we suffered in the bad moments. He is the best guy in these situations.
“Gabriel always helps us through more than goals but for a striker it is important to score.
“Big players have to show in the biggest stages in the big games and he showed it twice against the kings of this competition.
“It was a big step forward for him to show: ‘Here I am, I can win games by myself.'”
Jesus, who has scored six Champions League goals this season, after netting four each in his previous two campaigns, says he uses his compatriot Ronaldo as a benchmark.
“His quality is different from me but I have to work to be a great striker,” Jesus told BT Sport.
– ‘We have to be calm’ –
The City manager is also emboldened ahead of the Lisbon trip with the assured display at the back — so often this season seen as their Achilles heel.
It is an area which Guardiola has invested in already bringing Dutch international centre-back Nathan Ake to the club from relegated Bournemouth this week.
“The most important thing tonight was we didn’t make mistakes behind,” he said.
“We have suffered for that in this competition before.
“We were incredibly stable behind.”
Guardiola — who guided Barcelona twice to the Champions League trophy but failed to repeat the success with Bayern Munich — said beating Real is significant for everyone at the club but will count for little if they falter now.
“It is important,” he said.
“For Real Madrid to beat a big team in the last 16 is normal.
“For us, if we are going to be champions we have to beat these teams.
“If we think that (beating Real) is enough we will show how small we are.
“We don’t have a lot of presence in Europe so it is so important for the club, for all the workers at the club and for our supporters.”
Guardiola, though, cautioned against taking Lyon lightly.
“I just spoke with the scouting department about Lyon and they told me to be alert,” said Guardiola.
“The big clubs lift the titles. Real Madrid reached the final three times in a row and this shows we can do it, but we have to see how we recover.
“Last season we played Lyon twice and we could not beat them. We have to be calm.”
The remainder of the competition will be played in Portugal with the semi-finals scheduled for August 18/19 and the final on August 23.