Pep Guardiola admits he cannot help wondering how Manchester City’s campaign might have unfolded had Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero been firing in tandem all season.
City announced the signing of highly-rated Brazil striker Jesus last summer but the deal was not finalised until the January transfer window.
Jesus then made an immediate impact by scoring three goals from four starts but he broke a bone in his foot in February and only returned to action in Thursday’s derby draw against Manchester United.
Aguero has scored 30 goals this season but, despite his efforts, City failed to mount a serious Premier League title challenge and crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage.
Asked if things might have been different with more involvement from Jesus, manager Guardiola said: “Always I will have things in my mind what would have happened if I had been able to have Gabriel Jesus all season, but I will never know. I can imagine but I don’t know.
“The other guys made a lot and in the last two months it is outstanding what we have done. Except Thursday, Sergio scored in the last 11 games one goal a game.
“His numbers are there, he’s scored a lot of goals, but I would like to see him with another guy helping him, to take a lot of the pressure in that sense and both to be there in that position.”
Guardiola recognises his squad has limitations and it seems likely a number of changes will take place in the summer.
Such has been the dramatic impression made by 20-year-old Jesus, however, that Guardiola is already convinced City will fare better with him available more often.
As if to underline the point, Jesus almost netted a late winner against United after coming on as a substitute on Thursday. Jesus, returning after more than two months out, headed home but the effort was ruled out for offside.
He seems likely to continue his comeback with another appearance from the bench as City, looking to strengthen their top-four position, travel to relegation-threatened Middlesbrough on Sunday.
Guardiola said: “We saw in his first game against Tottenham his impact in eight minutes. We saw on Thursday after three months out, in five minutes he created two chances and (scored) one goal – (but) for one centimetre it was no goal.
“I would like to know what would have happened in many games when we missed chances because he has this instinct in the box.
“Now we are so happy he is back and next season he will be there with us.
“You cannot compete all the season against big teams like Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool, and big teams in Europe, with our squad.
“Gabriel is a number nine from Brazil and is a guy everybody knows how special he is. And hopefully next season, what we are going to try to get in the team is going to help us (even) more.”
Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is unlikely to play at Boro having been carried off on a stretcher with a calf injury in midweek.