Has Gabriel Jesus found his place as a wide forward?
Long seen as the natural heir to Sergio Aguero at Manchester City, the Argentine’s departure from the Etihad Stadium immediately made this a make or break season for Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian, now 24, cannot wait any longer to make himself a first team figure at the club. City need Jesus to take the next step in his development.
On the basis of his performance in the 5-0 mauling of Norwich City on Saturday, Jesus might just have done that. The 24-year-old scored twice as Manchester City put down a marker after an underwhelming opening weekend defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. In a team full of world class talent, Jesus was the best player on the pitch.
Gabriel Jesus wasn’t deployed as a centre forward against Norwich, though. Instead, the Brazilian was used in a wide position. He started on the right side, but was shifted over to the left after Jack Grealish was withdrawn in the second. Regardless of the wing, Jesus was dangerous, contributing two assists in 90 minutes.
Nobody made more key passes (three) than Jesus with the Brazilian also attempting three dribbles. The change in focus was evident in the fact Jesus only registered one shot, with his game geared towards providing for others. As a wide man in Guardiola’s structure, the 24-year-old looked a natural.
This came as a surprise to many who have typecast Gabriel Jesus as a striker since his arrival in England from Palmeiras in 2017. The Brazilian even wears the number nine shirt for City, but it appears Pep Guardiola now views the player in a different way. It’s possible this positional change could save Jesus’ career at the club.
“I spoke to Gabriel and he likes to play in the wider positions,” Guardiola revealed after the comprehensive win over Norwich. “Some players when they get the ball in more wide positions, their body shape is more open and they have more time to make the right decision. When you play central it is more difficult to get good balls playing so so central – Gabriel is better getting balls wider.”
Until recently, it seemed Gabriel Jesus was on his way out of Manchester City. With Guardiola determined to sign a new centre forward, the assumption was that the Brazilian would be squeezed out by Erling Haaland, Harry Kane or whoever pitched up at the Etihad Stadium this summer as the Premier League champions’ latest frontman.
Juventus were strongly linked with a move for the 24-year-old, but their interest never resulted in a solid bid. It was even reported that City might use Jesus as a makeweight to facilitate a transfer for Kane, with Tottenham Hotspur open to the idea of signing the Brazilian. His future at Manchester City appeared precarious.
It’s possible the dynamic has now changed. Most notable about Jesus’ performance against Norwich City was the sharpness of his decision making. While the Brazilian has been criticised for a lack of ruthlessness in the past as a centre forward, there was no sign of this with the 24-year-old running the channels on Saturday.
Of course, even as a wide forward, Gabriel Jesus will find it difficult to nail down a starting spot in Guardiola’s first choice team. Manchester City have a plethora of world class options in this area of the pitch with the £100m addition of Grealish this summer only raising the competition within the squad.
As things stand, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres are all vying with each other to catch Guardiola’s eye. The outlook for Jesus, however, is brighter than it appeared only a few weeks ago. If Kane arrives at the Etihad Stadium before the transfer window closes, it won’t be as a replacement for Jesus. Instead, he could arrive as a partner for the Brazilian.
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