By Matthew Schattner
Manchester City’s title hopes will be bolstered in January by the arrival of young Brazilian star Gabriel Jesus, but his journey to Manchester raises questions about the future of Sergio Aguero, who will have to elevate his game in order to retain the starting striker spot.
“It is not about how many goals he scores, because we’re happy with the scoring,” said manager Pep Guardiola in regards to Aguero’s hat trick against West Brom on 29 October, as he urged Aguero to add defensive duties to his play. The modern striker contributes more than just goals, a trend especially true for a side managed by Guardiola, where pressing, play-making and pressure are all part of the job description.
Aguero is famed for being a prolific goal-scorer, holding the best goals-per-minute ratio in Premier League history and netting his 150th City goal in only 233 appearances against Middlesbrough on 5 November.
But the match against Middlesbrough is precisely the issue. Ending in a discouraging 1-1 draw, Aguero missed a number chances that could have killed off the game and himself admitted, “I need to improve.” His movement and runs disrupt defenses, but Aguero does not otherwise contribute significantly off the ball. When his finishing is poor, there is little that the Argentine can do to make an impact.
“If we score the second goal – the chance that Sergio Aguero had – then the game was over,” Guardiola lamented after the match.
The City manager has long-praised his star striker as world class, but there is no doubt that Guardiola wants to see improvements, particularly in Aguero’s defensive contributions.
“Never in his career has he been aggressive,” Guardiola explained. “I don’t want Aguero to run behind the central defenders, I don’t want Aguero to jump higher than the other strikers – they’re taller than him.”
City’s squad is presently bereft of any true competition for Aguero’s starting spot, but that will change come January. Gabriel Jesus, a highly-coveted 19-year old Brazilian forward, will arrive at the Etihad fresh off a successful campaign with Palmeiras and in soaring form with the Brazilian national team.
“When the ball is there, it’s a goal. He has the sense of goal. So we buy goals. It’s not easy today.” Guardiola stated regarding the arrival of the 19-year old forward. “He’s a guy who worked real movements behind the line. When you have the players like [Raheem] Sterling, Jesus, these players going behind the line, it can create more space in the middle.”
Newly appointed Brazil manager Tite handed Jesus the sacred number nine shirt and his Brazil debut, and the young forward has rewarded the manager’s faith. Jesus has netted five goals and contributed three assists in six matches in Brazil’s World Cup qualifying campaign so far, helping Tite to six wins out of six to begin his tenure in charge.
“He’s one hell of a kid. What does this guy have? His turn of pace, his 10-metre sprints; they’re very strong,” said Tite of Jesus’ abilities. The forward is highly talented in skills that extend beyond just finishing, with a deft touch, intelligent movement and imposing strength on and off that ball that have made him vital to Brazil and possibly Manchester City in the near future.
Jesus’ arrival at Manchester City will add an new attacking option to Guardiola’s arsenal. Nearly a decade younger than Aguero, Jesus will be able to learn from the Argentine’s experience and talent. While Aguero will be forced to improve his all-around game, it remains to be seen if the 19-year old will displace the City stalwart, and both players will be benefit from the competition.
“I believe he made the right choice because of the coach,” said Tite of Jesus’ potential under Guardiola. “Normally you pick the club with the coach and, yes, he got it right.”