Jesus may have walked on water, but around the Etihad Stadium during this current season you are more likely to find him sitting on the bench. After such a scintillating introduction to English football Gabriel Jesus has come down with a chronic case of the goalscoring blues, which has seen him lose ground in Manchester City’s pecking order.
It is hard to decide which of the two defining scenes of City’s painful 2-0 reverse at the hands of Chelsea the past weekend was more excruciating to witness.
There was Gabriel sitting forlornly on the bench, snubbed by Pep Guardiola even in the absence of Sergio Aguero, as the manager opted to go strikerless at Stamford Bridge rather than put his faith in the Brazilian.
Then, there was the lost boy thrown into a losing cause 47 minutes into the game. Starved of quality possession and unable to make his mark, Jesus mustered just two shots, neither of which posed much danger for Chelsea shot-stopper Kepa.
This latest blank marked the Brazil forward’s 11th consecutive Premier League outing without troubling the scorers, with Huddersfield the only side to let him in so far. Indeed, aside from that wonderful hat-trick in the Champions League to destroy Shakhtar Donetsk, Jesus has been a pale shadow of the player that burst onto the scene with such confidence and verve as a teenager less than two years ago.
Jesus’ biggest obstacle to regular first-team football – just four of his 13 league appearances this term have come from the start, while that Huddersfield outing was the sole occasion on which he has completed the full 90 minutes – remains Sergio Aguero.
With 12 goals in 17 games in 2018-19 the Argentine is once more leading the way as Pep’s favoured sole striker, ably assisted by the likes of Raheem Sterling (nine in 18), David Silva (eight in 19) and Riyad Mahrez (seven in 22), the man preferred to Jesus in Aguero’s absence.
What is certain is that Jesus’ commitment has not dipped. The 21-year-old continues to run his heart out in every opportunity he receives for City, and his contribution to the team effort should not be overlooked.
But without goals it is hard to see him making a claim for more regular action: his one Premier League goal this season has come from a mammoth 23 shots, while in 2017-18 the youngster averaged just shy of a goal every four attempts. It is clear that he is snatching at chances that he previously converted with ease, with City and also in Brazil colours.
Roberto Firmino and Richarlison are both breathing down his neck for that single centre-forward spot in Tite’s system, while a newly rejuvenated Gabriel Barbosa and, further down the line, teenage sensations Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo could well make their own run for the No. 9 shirt.
In truth one could even chart Jesus’ woes all the way back to the World Cup: handed a starting spot by Tite, he failed to hit the net in Russia as the Selecao bombed out in the last-eight and has subsequently lost ground to Firmino in the team’s plans.
There is one man, however, convinced that the former Palmeiras wonderkid can turn it around. “He just needs to relax,” Guardiola told reporters at the start of December after Jesus drew a blank against Bournemouth. “I love his work ethic. I said to him: the work out on the pitch will sustain him. He helps us a lot. I am delighted.
“Football is not for one player the reason why he plays bad. Gabriel is a delight. He’s young, the same as the other ones, he will improve because has the desire to improve and that is important. He helped us a lot. A lot.”
Rotten form in front of goal is part and parcel of the life of an elite striker. All forwards go through difficult patches, including Aguero, whose game was revitalised by the arrival of Pep at the Etihad Stadium.
City fans will be hoping that in the long run the ex-Barca boss will have the same effect on their young Brazilian, who has the perfect chance to return to his best in Wednesday’s Champions League dead rubber against Hoffenheim. For now he is making all the right noises in his fleeting first-team chances, but the goals continue to elude him.
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