JESUS CAN FORGET NEYMAR AND AGUERO COMPARİSONS



When the referee blew the final whistle of Manchester City’s Champions League last-16 second-leg victory over Real Madrid, there were no wild celebrations from Gabriel Jesus.

The Brazilian slumped onto his haunches, shattered after a non-stop performance, before punching the ground; a slight celebration to mark a job well done.

Jesus is not the skilful, quicksilver superstar that many would like him to be, but he’s exactly the player that Pep Guardiola wants.

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In his home country more than anywhere else, there is a frustration that the 23-year-old is not the type of flamboyant striker that has always decorated the national team.

Neymar, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Romario personify the joga bonito spirit associated with the Selecao – with the flair and personality to win matches with a moment of beautiful inspiration.

Jesus is far more dependent on the collective.

That is why some frustrations were aimed at him after failing to score at the 2018 World Cup when Brazil were dumped out with little fanfare.

Even at the Etihad Stadium, there are uncomplimentary comparisons with club-record goalscorer Sergio Aguero, who has a knack of turning tight games with a flash of brilliance.

Jesus was the key man in the Champions League last-16 victory over Madrid but these were two match-winning performances built on desire and selflessness.

City hunted in packs to disturb Madrid’s lacklustre backline and it was Jesus who made the vital contributions, forcing Raphael Varane into two mistakes that led to the two goals. The winner, he finished himself.

There were no outrageous skills, no showboating; it was instead a match-winning performance built on grit and determination.

“Big players have to show in the biggest stages in the big games and he showed it twice against the kings of this competition,” Guardiola said following the win.

“He made an incredible step forward to say: ‘here I am and I can win games for myself’.”

With Aguero running out of time to play any part in the mini-tournament in Lisbon, the onus will fall on Jesus more than ever as the only recognised senior striker at the club.

Aguero has been working overtime in Barcelona to prove his fitness after surgery on a knee injury suffered seven weeks ago.

But the Argentina forward is yet to join up with the rest of the squad at their base at the five-star Cascais Resort, 20 miles away from their first fixture in the Portuguese capital.

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Even if he was fully fit, there would be no guarantees that Aguero would start Saturday’s quarter-final clash with Lyon ahead of Jesus.

Guardiola employed a hard-working, fluid system without a central striker to win home and away against Madrid and it looks like the blueprint for success if the club is going to win the European trophy for the first time in its history.

Aguero was fit for the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu back in February but Jesus was given a starting berth on the left wing as he, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva took turns to fill the striking role.

Five months later, Guardiola went with a similar system. This time Jesus, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling exchanged positions and their hard work rattled the Spanish champions again.

It suits Jesus’ hard graft perfectly but one slight setback is that the system may have to be mothballed until they come up against the more fearsome opponents of Barcelona or Bayern Munich in the semi-final or whichever side makes it to the final in the other half of the draw.

Before that they must get past Lyon, a Ligue 1 side less likely to go toe-to-toe with their opponents.

Against Juve, Rudi Garcia’s team were solid and disciplined, even with a full 30 minutes to hang on to their slenderest of advantages, squeezing through on away goals rule.

They set up in a 3-5-2 but got numbers back quickly to narrow the spaces in their own half as the Italian champions dominated possession.

It’s a similar approach to that taken by Mikel Arteta in Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory over City when Guardiola’s side were strangled in possession and punished on fast breaks.

Jesus started the Wembley clash as an orthodox striker and failed to have a single shot in the game.

Of all the forwards taking part in Lisbon, Jesus has the highest pass accuracy (86.5 per cent), but it’s in goals where he will be judged.

He has scored six times from seven Champions League appearances and Guardiola says he has to cope with the pressure of having to get the goals.

“What is important is that Jesus has to live with this pressure here, because he’s a striker and has to score goals,” Guardiola said last month. “This is normal at big clubs all around world.”

Jesus has not always enjoyed being the main man, particularly when he’s been on goalless streak and has admitted the pressure has got to him in the past. But City need him to deliver and with five goals in his last seven matches, there can be no excuses.

Everything is in place for Jesus to now make the step up from being a good striker to one of the most effective in Europe.

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JESUS CAN FORGET NEYMAR AND AGUERO COMPARİSONS


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