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Liverpool are showing that Man City have to learn how to play with Gabriel Jesus… not the other way round

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Not for the first time in his five year Manchester City career, Gabriel Jesus is splitting the fanbase.

When he took down Fernandinho’s pinpoint long ball over the top of the Cheltenham defence at the weekend before firing home, Jesus achieved two things. First, he saved City from a humiliating upset against the League Two minnows with just five minutes left, and secondly, his fifth goal of the season turned a poor individual performance into a better one.

Jesus was included at Cheltenham to regain some fitness, and also some confidence, having gone four games without a goal and 13 of the previous 14 appearances without scoring for club and country.

It’s a tricky place for Jesus to be, as he offers much more to City than goals. Still, a striker should be scoring more than Jesus is.

It’s unfair to expect Jesus to replicate everything that Sergio Aguero gives City. They’re completely different players, and Jesus has played in a no.10 position, out on the left, and as a lone striker in his recent outings. Pep Guardiola clearly wants Jesus to offer more to his all-round attack than just goal-poaching, so the more he comes deep to link with teammates, the less he will be in the box to get on the end of their balls in.

Jesus has been at his best for City in the false nine position, allowing wingers to pass him rather than being their focal point. When he was out at the start of the year, City had a relative degree of joy by utilising different attacking midfielders as false nines, and the designated players in that position only got two goals in four games without a striker.

With a run of games and return to full fitness, Jesus would be happy with that kind of return.

His output this season has been markedly less than last term, where he got 23 goals and 14 assists in 53 outings – or a goal involvement every 88 minutes. This term, his five goals and one assist in 16 outings averages a goal involvement every 188 minutes. He admitted himself that injury and isolation issues this season have disrupted his rhythm, giving an honest assessment of the setbacks at the weekend.

Those statistics are enough to justify any doubts in Jesus, but a comparison with another low-scoring no.9 is worth considering before writing the Brazilian off completely.

Compatriot Roberto Firmino has largely been praised over the last year or so for being crucial to Liverpool’s Champions League and Premier League-winning form. Yet last season he registered 12 less goal involvements than Jesus having played just one game less, and his average of a goal or assist every 156 minutes was significantly lower than Jesus’.

This season, Firmino has the same number of goals as Jesus, with a goal contribution every 187 minutes – practically identical to Jesus – but with 12 more appearances to his name.

So why does Firmino attract far less criticism and questions over his place in the Liverpool team than Jesus does at City despite being less prolific?

In the most simplistic terms, Firmino is an established part of Jurgen Klopp’s set-up. He is not immune from criticism of his record, especially in recent weeks, but he is first choice along with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, acting as the one who stretches the defence and does the dirty work for his teammates to shine.

City have a less structured attack, with rotation the name of the game, and Jesus has to accept that. When he does play, comparisons with Firmino are quite appropriate, with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez benefitting from the space he creates.

This season, Jesus averages more interceptions, attempts more dribbles (with fewer that lose possession), has less unsuccessful touches, and wins more aerial duels than Firmino. It’s not just his attacking output that is better than the Liverpool man, his all-round game is statistically more effective, too.

Yet when Firmino scores, there’s a huge celebration made from the whole squad and coaching staff as a celebration of all he does for the team being rewarded. When Jesus scores, it’s seen as the least he should be doing because City are so used to Sergio Aguero’s brilliance.

The past six months without Aguero have been enlightening for City. They now know that if they want Jesus to replace Aguero’s goals then they will be disappointed.

However that doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t valuable to City, and he can be their Firmino that allows other teammates to make headlines.

As Guardiola said last week, City have been surprised by Jesus’ impact over the last five years. And at 23 years old, Jesus was challenged to improve ‘on many things.’

Maybe City need to improve as well. Maybe they need to learn how to play with Jesus and his strengths, rather than mould him into a replacement for Sergio Aguero when he is a fine forward with his own strengths and his own kind of City future.

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