Can Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero Coexist for Manchester City?
Pep Guardiola isn't afraid to make bold, cutthroat moves -- whether that's with his tactics, starting XI or in the transfer market.
In his first season with Manchester City, Guardiola immediately set out to reshape the roster. He loaned out the club's star goalie, Joe Hart, in a controversial move and then signed Gabriel Jesus, a 19-year-old phenom, to play alongside star striker Sergio Aguero. With Aguero getting up in age (29), Jesus seemed like a guy who could one day supplant Aguero, a City legend, as the team's frontman -- or so the thought went.
But that's not how it happened. At the time, no one knew Aguero's place in the side was in jeopardy, but Guardiola shifted Aguero to the bench right away and made Jesus his first-choice striker.
The way Guardiola handled Hart and Aguero ruffled a lot of feathers in England, and the esteemed manager ended up hitting .500 with his headline-making moves. While the Sky Blues struggled between the posts all season and are still searching for a permanent solution in goal, Guardiola's decision to bench Aguero in favor of Jesus came up spades.
How good was Jesus in his brief, injury-shortened debut season, and what does his emergence mean for Aguero's future at City?
Some Insane Production
It's important to keep in mind we're talking about a mere 10 total Premier League appearances -- only 8 of which were starts -- for Jesus. But, man, he was incredible.
The Brazilian forward ended the season with seven goals and four assists in 651 minutes. He put the ball in the back of the net once every 93 minutes, and he recorded either an assist or goal once every 59.2 minutes, the best ratio of any Premier League player (minimum 500 minutes played). Jesus finished the season as City's third-best player, according to WhoScored.com's rating system.
Here's his match log, which includes all of his Premier League starts with the exception of an injury-shortened outing versus Bournemouth.
|Opponent||Minutes Played||Goals||Assists||WhoScored Rating||Result|
|West Ham||90||1||1||8.40||W 4-0|
|Swansea City||90||2||-||8.31||W 2-1|
|Crystal Palace||84||1||-||8.46||W 5-0|
|Leicester City||90||-||1||7.21||W 2-1|
|West Brom||90||1||1||8.61||W 3-1|
|Totals||651||7||4||7.49||+18 Goal Differential|
It's hard to quibble with much of anything here. Sure, none of these opponents finished higher than ninth in the league, but Jesus dominated. In every EPL match in which he started, he contributed either a goal or an assist, and only once did Jesus play at least 80 minutes and not make the net bulge.
Overall, City slaughtered the opposition 23-5 in these seven fixtures, going unbeaten and taking home 19 of a possible 21 points. The attack generated 3.28 goals per match with Jesus in the side, compared to 2.1 goals per match overall for the EPL season.
This is where I remind you that Jesus turned 20 in April, and the highest level of competition he faced prior to moving to England came in the Brasileirao, Brazil's top flight, which is like jumping from parenting one kid to getting pregnant with triplets. He's good -- really good.
How He Fit With Aguero
Guardiola brought in Jesus midseason, and just days after the lad arrived in Manchester, Guardiola immediately threw the youngster onto the pitch as a late sub in a massive home match against Tottenham. Again, Pep is bold as all get out.
But then, as we touched on in the intro, things starting getting legit crazy as Guardiola began playing Jesus -- almost immediately -- over the legendary Aguero. And it worked.
Jesus racked up a goal (shown below) and an assist, tying David Silva as the team's top-rated player in a 4-0 thrashing of West Ham in London. He was named Man of the Match four days later as City edged Swansea, 2-1, with Jesus netting a brace.
1st #EPL start for 19 year old Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus, and he scores his 1st #ManCity goal. Future world star. #MCFC #WHUMCI pic.twitter.com/BLF6tg1VXc
— Jason Foster (@JogaBonitoUSA) February 1, 2017
Jesus' smashing debut campaign was brought to a halt when he injured his foot against Bournemouth, which forced him off after 15 minutes. It was Aguero who replaced him as Guardiola again opted to start Jesus over the Argentine.
When Jesus returned to health nearly three months later, Guardiola tried something he hadn't yet done -- putting both Aguero and Jesus in the starting XI and shifting to a two-striker formation. Both players scored against Middlesbrough, with Aguero also adding an assist, but City dropped points in a 2-2 draw.
Over City's final four Premier League fixtures, Guardiola constantly tinkered with his formation and squad, never rolling out the exact same lineup more than once.
Aguero and Jesus started together two more times, with Aguero operating as a lone striker while Jesus was out on the right, basically filling a winger's role. They weren't facing top-notch competition in those two matches (West Brom and Watford), but City won each by a combined score of 8-1, with Aguero and Jesus both totaling two goals and two assists over the pair of contests.
All in all, Jesus and Aguero were in the same starting XI three times, and City took seven points from those three matches, with a combined score of 10-3 across the fixtures.
Based off what we saw this past season, it sure seems like Jesus has a set-in-stone place in Guardiola's starting XI. When Jesus was healthy, he was in the side.
Aguero's future role is a lot more uncertain, although the club has insisted he isn't going anywhere. Jesus' injury decreases the sample size, but Aguero was in the starting lineup less than half of the time Jesus started. He usually came on as a sub, but having a player of Aguero's talent and salary (he's tied for the highest weekly wages at the club) on the bench seems like overkill.
With the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Silva, Aguero and Jesus, City are overflowing with attacking talent. That hasn't stopped Guardiola from acquiring more attack-minded pieces as they recently landed midfielder Bernardo Silva from Monaco, further deepening the competition to get in City's starting XI.
Trying to predict what Guardiola will do with his side is a fool's errand. He, more than any current manager, will buck any trend and try any formation (he played two at the back once when he was at Bayern Munich, and he tried man-marking Barcelona at the Camp Nou in 2015). Those traits will come in handy if Guardiola tries to fit both Aguero and Jesus into the starting lineup.
If he keeps Aguero on the bench, City will truly be spoiled as they'll have a world-class striker -- someone who has bagged 70 Premier League goals across the past three seasons, the most in the league during that span -- to bring on late in matches. Squad depth is never a bad thing, especially at a club like City, one which hopes to win every competition it enters.
Aguero has been deployed as City's lone striker for the better part of his Manchester career, so if he's used in any other role -- whether it be a sub or as part of a two-forward attack -- he will likely need some time to adjust. City have assembled an absurd amount of attacking talent, and how Guardiola is going to utilize it in the coming season will be one of the big storylines surrounding the club this offseason, even if improving the defense is this summer's most important task.