THAT first touch from Gabriel Jesus, taking the ball beyond Trent Alexander-Arnold, may not have been intentional. But there is no doubt about what came next.
The Brazilian striker reacted quickly to the opportunity, spinning and toe poking a shot past Alisson to bring Manchester City level against Liverpool.
Gabriel Jesus is at a crossroads in his career for club and countryCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Jesus toe pokes Man City’s equaliser against Liverpool homeCredit: EPA
It was a moment when Gabriel Jesus looked like a genuine centre forward. But does he produce enough such moments? Is he a genuine centre forward?
Brazil have decided that he is not. If coach Tite could turn back the hands of time and play the 2018 World Cup again, then Gabriel Jesus would not be leading the team’s attacking line.
Thrown in at the deep end as a teenager in 2016, Jesus seemed to have solved Brazil’s surprising and long running centre forward problem.
He did wonderfully well in qualification. But when it really mattered, when the bar was raised higher in Russia, he had a bad tournament.
Some much criticised centre forwards in Brazil’s past – Serginho in 1982, Fred in 2014 – managed to score a World Cup goal. But in an
attack minded side, Gabriel Jesus did not get off the mark.
Brazil decided that he did not offer enough in the penalty area. He remains part of Brazil’s plans – but as a striker operating from wide, not through the middle. Coach Tite stresses that this is his favoured position.
If this is true, then where does that leave Gabriel Jesus with Manchester City?
When he arrived at the start of 2017 he hit the ground running, and there was a spell when he won the nod as centre forward over Sergio Aguero.
Brazil prefer to play Jesus as a wide striker rather than centre forwardCredit: Reuters
Sergio Aguero’s injury problems have seen Jesus fill in at centre forward for Manchester CityCredit: Rex Features
Almost four years later, it is far from clear that Gabriel Jesus is, or can be, a like for like Aguero replacement.
The absences through injury of the little Argentine have shone a light on the strengths and weaknesses of the young Brazilian.
Against Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League, Gabriel Jesus was superb.
He pressed the opposing centre backs to distraction, and was a decisive part of City’s victory.
But in the next round against Lyon he was very disappointing. It was a very different type of game, one where City badly needed a penalty area presence that he did not supply.
PEP’S POSSIBLE SOLUTION
Facing the very strongest opponents, Pep Guardiola may well favour a more mobile attacking line.
But against the majority of teams he would surely do better with a specialist in the dark acts of the restricted space of the area.
Jesus has struggled at times to fill Aguero’s bootsCredit: Reuters
Guardiola still has faith in JesusCredit: Getty Images – Getty
That goal against Liverpool on Sunday shows that Gabriel Jesus does have some penalty area skills. But does he have enough?
His other contribution close to the opposing goal was a well timed run followed by a fluffed header from Joao Cancelo’s cross. And most of his other work happened either wide or deep.
Guardiola and his Manchester City staff must surely be pondering this issue.
The club must inevitably prepare for a post-Aguero era. Will they need to spend big money on a specialist centre forward?
Or do they disagree with Brazil’s coach, and think that Gabriel Jesus can grow into the role?
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