Gabriel Jesus: A striker-turned-winger about to explode or just beginner’s luck?
When Manchester City signed Gabriel Jesus, he was relatively unknown in the world of football. He wasn’t one of the hot prospects who every club in Europe was after. He was just a 19-year-old boy from Brazil playing in Palmeiras. But Pep Guardiola saw in him a player who could have a bright future at Manchester City and a possible replacement for Sergio Kun Aguero. This was the beginning of the story of Gabriel Jesus at one of the best clubs in the Premier League
Jesus arrived as a forward at City but was well versed with playing at the wings as well. He arrived at the club during the winter transfer window of the 2016-17 season in a 28.80 million pound deal. The idea was to keep him as a budding prospect who could learn under Aguero and be his substitute. But Jesus made his introduction in the City squad with a bang. Within his first half-season with City, Jesus had managed to displace City’s legendary striker from the first team for a considerable amount of time.
He also managed to score 7 goals and assist 5 times in all competitions in 8 matches worth of time. For a league that most people consider hard to adjust to, Jesus had shown he had a knack for goal and could very well be Aguero’s replacement. Over the upcoming seasons, Jesus’s presence grew and his numbers started going up. In the 17/18,18/19 and 19/20 seasons, Jesus had 22, 27 and 37 goal involvements respectively. His partnership with Aguero worked well but Guardiola preferred to play with a single striker in most matches.
The man who scored the goal that secured the Centurion match for City in 17/18 saw a dip in his form last season. He isn’t the most technically gifted player or the best poacher but he works very hard to help his team. His work rate is very high but a certain dip in his confidence and issues with finishing resulted in the drop in his form. Even when Aguero was injured throughout the season and barely played a few matches, Jesus wasn’t called up for the big matches.
The pressure on him grew more and more as Guardiola opted for a false 9 system which didn’t require a striker. Now Jesus was a striker in a ‘strikerless team’. This impacted his self-confidence and game on the pitch. Even when he played, he wasn’t able to fit into the game as the team was now more well versed with the false 9 system rather than the traditional striker system. He became what we could describe as an ‘aimless forward’. He ran a lot, worked tirelessly but was never in the right position for the goal. The chances that did fall to him, he used to miss.
All these factors added to the mental pressure he was feeling. A 23-year-old striker was struggling to get into a team that needed a striker. Such was the situation of Gabriel Jesus. In the 20/21 season, Jesus managed to rack up only 18 goal involvements in 32 full matches. He worked tirelessly but just couldn’t get the finishing touch that City’s creators desperately needed. This even resulted in him pushing for a move in the summer of 2021. Although he didn’t leave and decided to fight for his spot, he needed change and guidance that would make him a useful asset to the team again.
Jesus saw a change of fate in the 21/22 season when Guardiola opted to play him at right-wing instead of the usual centre forward role. He started as a winger in City’s first match of the season against Norwich. Playing for City in that position for the first time, he almost notched a hat-trick of assist but settled for a brace at the end.
In the next match against Arsenal, he got himself a goal and an assist. Jesus has the creative freedom while playing at the wings which he didn’t have in the centre. He can use his work rate to his advantage and set up goals. In the centre, he lacked the physicality to get past Premier League defenders. This issue was resolved when he started at the wing. And he has excelled in that position in such a way that he already has 1/3rd of the goal involvements he had all season in 20/21.
With his close control dribbling, the Brazilian flair and constant pressing, Gabriel Jesus at the wings is a menace for the defenders. Whether Jesus can keep up this early form for the rest of the season is yet to be seen. But Guardiola has yet again dropped a piece of tactical brilliance in adjusting the player according to his system and helped Jesus develop even more as a player. Still being only 24 years old, Jesus has the potential to grow even more and become a more complete player.