Where Will Gabriel Jesus Fit in at Manchester City?
How will Gabriel Jesus fare in English football? The forward’s recent form suggests he will excel. Jesus played a key role in Brazil’s Olympic football gold, an emotional victory for the nation, and has since moved on to the first team, scoring five goals in six matches as part of a fearsome attacking trident with Phillipe Coutinho and Neymar.
It’s been a dream past few months for the Brazilian, but European football – and English football, in particular – has a habit of providing rough awakenings to cultured players.
The blood and thunder reputation of English football is perhaps a little overhyped, but the Premiership is a demanding league. Man City’s first major act following the investment from the Abu Dhabi United Group that propelled them onto football’s rich list was to sign Robinho from Real Madrid.
Robinho, once the golden child of Brazilian football himself, never looked at ease in England. Though he showed quality in fits and starts and finished as City’s top scorer in his first season, by the second season his left wing position was stolen by Craig Bellamy – a player whose relentless pressing and willingness to get in the face of the opposition was more to the taste of manager Mark Hughes.
A very different manager is at the helm of City nowadays. Pep Guardiola was said to be instrumental in Gabriel Jesus’s decision to move to the club ahead of glamorous suitors like Real Madrid and Barcelona and has had to adapt to the demands of English football himself. “None of you have been in La Liga or the Bundesliga to know how intense it is,” Guardiola told the English media when he finally tired of questions about the pace of the league.
The pure, tiki-taka football Guardiola pioneered at Barcelona was admired in England but, for many, considered a luxury available under stricter European referees that wouldn’t survive “a cold Tuesday night in Stoke.” Pep’s Man City won 4-1 away at Stoke in August, while the Spaniard’s possession based football also delivered victory in a Manchester derby at Old Trafford and has kept City at the top of the league for most of the season. Whilst City have hit a rough patch in recent weeks, the bookmaker Bet365 that offers new customers a £200 sign up bonus explained in this great guide, has Manchester City at odds of 3.0 to win the English Premier league next May.
Guardiola has shown that intricate touch and movement football can deliver results in England, but he has also complained that he finds Premiership referees difficult to understand. “Sometimes it's a foul and sometimes no foul,” the Spaniard observed after City survived a late onslaught of long balls and physical play at Burnley, “the same foul sometimes is and sometimes is not.”
Gabriel Jesus will find out the hard way that more physical challenges are allowed to go unpunished in England than elsewhere. If equally slight City teammates like David Silva and Sergio Aguero can survive the baptism of fire and thrive in English football there’s no reason why Jesus can’t, but it may take time. Even Neymar, under the greater protection of Spanish referees, took the best part of a year to look at home in Barcelona.
In order to adapt Gabriel Jesus will require playing time. Is there space for him in City’s first XI?
Guardiola usually plays with one striker and two wingers/inside forwards. Aguero has been prolific at City and it is highly unlikely that Jesus will displace him at centre forward. This leaves the Brazilian competing with wingers Jesus Navas, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Nolito for one of two slots in the City team.
Sterling has impressed this season and become a favourite of Guardiola, but none of Sane, Nolito or Navas have done enough to become a must pick. Sterling is more of a winger than an inside forward so could play on the right of City’s attack, allowing Gabriel Jesus to make a bid for the left wing position. In theory, the Brazilian should thrive in this role. Playing for a team that dominates possession, with players of the craft of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva looking to slide passes into the channels for him, Gabriel Jesus should be able to cut inside from the left wing in much the same way that his friend and idol Neymar does to great effect at Barcelona.
Sergio Aguero has scored 16 goals for Man City this season, but no other player has managed more than five. If Jesus can transfer his recent scoring form for Brazil to the Etihad stadium he could become a key player for City straight away.
“I am dying to get over there and help Manchester as much as I can,” Jesus said after Palmeiras’s triumph. With his star on the rise it seems like the right time for the player to move – and the right time for City to welcome him – but, as with everything in life, only time will tell.