Photo Credit: Gabriel Jesus Twitter
For every fan, players, and others associated with Manchester City, the 2020-21 season will be a season to remember as the club will play in UEFA Champions League finals alongside their Premier League rivals Chelsea in an ‘All English Finals’ which is happening for the second time in four years. Apart from that, they have already won the Carabao Cup as well as are very close to lift the Premier League Trophy for the 3rd time in Pep Guardiola’s five year tenure at Manchester City.
However, the form of players like Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus have witnessed nothing short of a decline and has unfortunately been reduced to be substitutes warming the bench signaling cause of concern for both the players who were and are still an integral part of the Shark Team, particularly for Sterling whose contract is up in next two years and is due for renewal.
Raheem Sterling has netted merely 9 goals in 28 Premier League matches which is not even half of his tally in the 2019/20 season i.e. 20 goals while Jesus scored 8 goals which is less than 14 goals he scored the previous season. Looking at these stats, where Sterling scored more than Jesus in both the season is disappointing from the point of view of Gabriel Jesus who was touted as the long term successor of Argentine Talisman Sergio Aguero in the Manchester City squad. Sterling and Jesus are not in the highest of spirits at the moment, according to sources close to the squad, which is in part understandable and inevitable given he isn’t playing with both of them not picked up for UCL semi-finals against Paris Saint Germain raising questions about their importance and their value in the squad. In this two-part article, the first one will focus on Gabriel Jesus and his strengths and issues being reflected over the course of his tenure at Manchester City as he will in all likeliness be the club’s primary striker option from 2021/22 season onwards unless Guardiola decides otherwise
Under Guardiola’s tutelage, Manchester City’s strikers are required to press the opposition defenders, drop deep to link up with the midfield, make movements off the ball and, of course, score goals. Even though Gabriel Jesus is one of the best strikers in making the high intensive pressing in the world, his decline in form as reflected in his statistics raises questions of whether the Brazilian is already past his prime at such a young age. Also, Jesus had been diagnosed and recovered from COVID-19. He did not have any symptoms while positive, but after the virus left his system, he struggled with fatigue adding to his woes of being out of form for quite some time. To add to the list of reasons for him not being in his prime as a player, his preferred position is starting on the wing, either the left or the right. Over the course of his career, he has been used more and more as a striker but he has said in a couple of interviews that he prefers playing out wide, and those close to him say that is still the case.
Gabriel Jesus was all smiles and is packed with all kinds of energy when he moved to Manchester midway through Guardiola’s first season and rejecting the opportunity of playing for Real Madrid due to chances of getting more game time at City as well being coached under Pep Guardiola, injecting impetus into a stuttering team. This was reflected in his decision to sign a new deal at a very early stage in his career at Manchester City signaling his intention to stay and wear the colours with pride for a longer time, but a lot has changed since then. He has experienced some tougher times, his friends have had to return to Brazil, the goals have not always flowed, and his body language has led Guardiola to look for other options — both in the current squad and in the transfer market. Along with that, Jesus' close friends with whom he had grown up within Brazil and were considered being part of his extended family, were being denied entry in the UK after their visas expired in January 2018, which left him sad and alone and have somewhat affected his performances on the pitch as well. Jesus has also suffered from psychological breakdown owing to various Brazilian social media accounts posting memes after memes due to him failing to score in 2018 World Cup, with one particularly cruel and disturbing meme being the one depicting his World Cup journey: 2014 painting the streets of his hometown, 2018 leading the line in Russia, 2022 back on the streets.
As compared to Aguero, Jesus is better defensively and is blessed with superior pressing skills. He knows when and where to go and which way to show the man on the ball by using the shape of his body to dictate the opposition’s next pass, which his teammates will be waiting for. But, the Spaniard preference of playing the ‘False 9’ system has put Jesus low on confidence leading to him starting in fewer matches and giving under-par performances. Jesus can drop easily in between City’s two No 8s and link together with them. The run can also force a centre-back to follow him, which could rattle the opponent's organised and deep lying defense and creates spaces for one of the No 8s or a wide forward to either drift into or attack.
But, he is much more mature now, he is more disciplined and understands exactly what is going on around him on the pitch. Even after Sergio Aguero’s departure, the Brazilian will still have to prove his worth on the pitch in whatever opportunities he would be given by Pep Guardiola to establish and consolidate his position as City’s first choice striker with him also having to work hard to reduce Guardiola’s dependence on the ‘False 9 system’.