Pep Guardiola praises Josko Gvardiol’s growing confidence and influence

<span>Josko Gvardiol, pictured leading the celebrations after his second goal at Fulham, has thrived as a converted full-back.</span><span>Photograph: Stephanie Meek/CameraSport/Getty Images</span>
Josko Gvardiol, pictured leading the celebrations after his second goal at Fulham, has thrived as a converted full-back.Photograph: Stephanie Meek/CameraSport/Getty Images

Pep Guardiola has hailed the transformation in Josko Gvardiol from nervous newcomer to potentially title-winning goal machine, saying the Manchester City left-back “struggled” during his early months at the club.

Gvardiol scored twice in a 4-0 win at Fulham that leaves a fourth straight Premier League trophy firmly in City’s sights. The first of those goals was superbly taken after an inventive burst inside; the second an instinctive toe-poke past Bernd Leno. The Croatian has scored five times in the past seven games, having broken his duck emphatically at the Bernabéu last month, and has become an unlikely driving force in City’s seemingly inexorable late-season run.

Related: Relentless Pep Guardiola’s laser focus gives Manchester City cutting edge | John Brewin

“Life is about confidence,” Guardiola said when asked whether Gvardiol, who joined from RB Leipzig last August, has grown in personality and self-belief during the campaign. “Coming to the Premier League for the first season when you are 21 years old, I would say it is not easy to handle it and at the beginning he struggled a little bit.

“He comes to the team who won the treble and at the beginning he was a little bit shy, a little bit :‘I don’t want to ruin all the structure they have.’ It is a question of time. He has come here for many, many years and he is proving to himself that he can do it and play with us.”

Primarily a central defender before arriving at City, Gvardiol has been converted into a rangy left-back who looks increasingly comfortable within their attacking patterns. Guardiola hailed his dedication to self-improvement towards the end of an exacting first year. “We had three days off after the Wolves game [on 4 May],” the manager said. “On Sunday, the first day off, [Gvardiol] went along to the training centre to make a recovery. His focus is football. He wants to be better and better, and when that happens you have something special.”

Guardiola was asked about the condition of John Stones, who has been an unused substitute in three of City’s past four games after being dogged by fitness problems in recent weeks. He explained the versatile Stones’s omission was a consequence of other players’ form, in defence and midfield, and likened his situation to that of Jack Grealish. “Sometimes the other players make a step up,” he said. “Mateo [Kovacic] is playing unbelievably now, Nathan [Aké] was unbelievable as well.

“Jack, last season, played a lot. This season he plays less. In this team you have to perform consistently well many, many times. I know their qualities. [Stones] is available when we need him in the last part of the season and of course in the future.”

An injury to Aké, who was replaced midway through the first half at Craven Cottage, may open the door for Stones. City will hope Aké is available for theirdecisive final week, which begins with a visit to Tottenham on Tuesday.