Pablo Zabaleta believes Kelechi Iheanacho has shown Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola can rely on him to come up with the goods in attack as Sergio Aguero begins his lengthy suspension.
Aguero’s rash lunge on Chelsea’s David Luiz during Saturday’s 3-1 Premier League defeat landed City’s top scorer with a four-match ban, ruling him out until the New Year’s Eve trip to Liverpool.
The Argentina star was an unused substitute for Tuesday’s 1-1 Champions League Group C draw against Celtic, with qualification assured and Guardiola taking the opportunity to start Iheanacho.
The 20-year-old responded with a clinical finish to cancel out Patrick Roberts’ early opener and did his chances of an extended run in the team no harm.
Zabaleta, who was deployed in an unfamiliar midfield role as academy youngsters Pablo Maffeo and Tosin Adarabioyo were given their latest taste of first-team action, said: “It was a good chance for Kelechi to play. We know Sergio will miss the next four games and I think he is ready.
“He played well. He scored a great goal and he must be ready for the next few games because probably the manager will need him more than ever.
“Aguero is suspended so it is time for him to take that chance.”
Zabaleta was quick to praise another of the talented youngsters on City’s books, even if Celtic’s loan star Roberts gave his parent club plenty to handle after his fine fourth-minute strike.
The former Fulham man joined the Scottish Premiership champions in January on an 18-month loan deal and Zabaleta believes he has a bright future ahead of him when he returns to Manchester.
“Of course, we know Patrick really well,” said the 31-year-old, who was the hosts’ captain for the night.
“He’s been with us for a short period, but enough for us to see how good he is.
“I was not happy when he scored, but also I’m pleased with what he’s doing at Celtic.
“He’s a young lad with a lot of things to improve and he will become an important player for Manchester City in the future.”
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