Why Manchester City are better with Gabriel Jesus than Sergio Aguero.
Sergio Aguero is Manchester City’s all-time leading goalscorer, but he’s still the Premier League champions’ second-best striker. More accurately, Aguero may be more talented (he’s certainly more prolific), but City are a better side whenever Gabriel Jesus leads the line.
The 21-year-old Brazil international makes the Citizens more effective going forward. He makes those around him better thanks to a more varied range of movement, along with a greater commitment to the pressing manager Pep Guardiola preaches.
Jesus showed off all of those qualities during Sunday’s 4-1 win away to West Ham. WhoScored.com detailed the numbers from the South American’s latest star turn:
City’s No. 33 found the net at the London Stadium, while pulling the Hammers apart with his subtle runs, classy passing and relentless pressing.
The latter is the one aspect of his game Aguero can’t match. Jesus never tires from harassing defenders and forcing mistakes.
He caused a calamity when he was quick to close down 19-year-old Declan Rice. Jesus pounced on the defender’s short back pass, a mistake caused by pressure.
Although City didn’t profit from his pressing on this occasion, Jesus had set a familiar tone for opposition defenders. He simply doesn’t give them a moment’s peace.
Guardiola’s teams are among the most open and progressive you’ll find. Ironically, they are also usually among the most solid defensively.
City are no exception, having been breached just 26 times in 35 league games, the fewest in the division. The Citizens have been stingy because Guardiola insists they defend from the front.
The approach demands relentless pressing from those at the tip of the team. Jesus carries out the mantra with more gusto than Aguero.
He also offers more variety in his movement than the Argentinian. While Aguero loves to hog central areas, Jesus is a roving striker, who alters City’s attacking shape with his myriad of runs.
His knack for taking up challenging positions led directly to his goal against the Hammers. Jesus had dropped off the front and occupied a space between the midfield and forward lines.
The center-forward was essentially a No. 10. He received right-back Kyle Walker’s pass with his back to goal before turning to slide a sweet pass into the path of winger Raheem Sterling.
Never static, Jesus continued his run and took the return from Sterling on the penalty spot. He then finished with a coolness belying his tender years.
Later in the game, Jesus put Sterling through once more after pressing high to intercept a poor clearance from West Ham goalkeeper Adrian. Again, the Brazilian’s vision and technique had released a runner in behind.
The fact Sterling was the target for both passes was apt. He and fellow winger Leroy Sane have been the biggest beneficiaries of Jesus’ tactical understanding.
Both have had greater license to make runs off the wing and through the middle thanks to Jesus and his astute wanderlust. The latter’s fondness for vacating the middle has left extra space in central areas for Sterling and Sane to exploit.
Their runs from outside to in are ideal for a City team loaded with players capable of sliding passes through gaps at angles on the turn.
Sane was on the scoresheet against the Hammers, while Sterling chipped in with a hat-trick of assists. They’ve now achieved a rarity for end product this season, per Squawka Football:
It’s no surprise Sterling and Sane have improved their final-third production while playing alongside a mover as fluid as Jesus. He drifts left, right or drops deep to change the shape of the Citizens’ front three on the fly.
More than just riffing with it, though, the runs Jesus makes always have a purpose. They exploit gaps as they appear and draw markers away from the rest.
Perception, timing and instinct are key to what makes Jesus the ideal player to operate at the tip of a team as free-flowing as City. He’s not a false 9, nor a perfect 10. Neither is he a traditional focal point in the way Aguero is.
Instead, Jesus is a cunning amalgamation of the core characteristics of City’s philosophy under Guardiola: pace, flair, intelligence and work-rate.
City don’t have another striker who embodies those qualities as well. Nor is Guardiola likely to find one in this summer’s transfer market.
Rather, his focus should be on building around Jesus with more players who would benefit from his subtle style.