The Next Big Thing: a closer look at Gabriel Jesus

Player Analysis
Edgar Faroh

Author: Edgar Faroh

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On August 3rd, Manchester City announced the signing of 19-year old Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras for 33 million euros. It’s been little less than a year since Pep Guardiola’s side confirmed via Twitter that the young Brazilian sensation would arrive to Manchester in December. Since then, Jesus’s 2016/2017 campaign had a little bit of everything. His season was filled with goals, joyful moments, trophies, but also injuries that prevented him from playing Champions League football and reach Premier League regularity.

Before making his voyage to England, he led Palmeiras to win their ninth league title with 12 goals as their leading goal scorer. Upon arrival, he automatically showed his impact on the field. His offside goal against Tottenham after coming on late in the game gave the footballing world a preview of what they were about to experience in the coming months. Following the Spurs game, Jesus had marvellous performances against West Ham and Swansea, before getting injured for nearly 2 months. He scored one against the Hammers and 2 against the Swans, including a 90th minute winner at the Etihad.

After his recovery, the Brazilian did not slow down. Three goals in his next 4 games before the season ended showed how consistent Gabriel was in front of goal.

He scored an amazing 7 goals in 651 minutes of Premier League action, 3 in 487 minutes in the Olympics, 5 for Brazil in 497 minutes in the World Cup Qualifiers, and 12 in 27 matches for Palmeiras. To score every 93 minutes in the Premier League, while scoring every 99 minutes for his country shows Jesus can adapt, perform, and excel in different leagues and styles of play.

The talented attacker adds enormous versatility and unpredictability to Manchester City’s offence. He can dribble, pass, act as a target man, penetrate lines, find teammates, and most importantly: score. Let’s take a closer look at how the Brazilian plays, and why his talent arose interest from Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.

Dribbling:

Gabriel’s dribbling ability allows him to zigzag around defenders all over the field. When he plays as a winger, he has no problem beating the opposition full backs. When he plays as a striker, Jesus runs past defenders in a more central area of the pitch. Scouts have been interested in the young Brazilian for quite a while now, and the first attribute Jesus dominated since he was younger was his dribbling. Playing in Brazil, it is only expected for an attacker to do step-overs and and roulette’s. Having said that, Gabriel Jesus seems to  have a dribbling technique far better than anyone in the league. Most importantly, he knows when to dribble and when to let go off the ball, a trait that shows a high footballing I.Q. along with maturity. Here are a few clips of Jesus taking on defenders in all areas of the pitch:

Notice how he normally gets rid of the ball after beating his opponents. Good dribblers at such a young age normally tend to hold on to the ball for too long, affecting the rest of the team’s tempo when attacking. A great dribbler who has the ability to keep the pace of the ball circulating is always extremely valuable, especially in such a physical competition like the Premier League. His quickness to dribble in such short spaces makes defenders desperate which often leads to Jesus being brought down by the opposition. Here are a few examples of defenders aggressively tackling Jesus after the Brazilian dribbled past them:

As shown, Jesus drives the opposition to foul him often, some including aggression. He causes a lot of yellow and red cards for rival teams whenever he is feeling quick.

Pep Guardiola will finally have Jesus available for pre-season for the 2017/2018 campaign. He will be able to implement his playing style from the beginning, and hopefully improve his understanding with new teammate Bernardo Silva. That promising duo could be prolific, and with Leroy Sane on the left, Pep has a wide variety of attacking options he can play with Aguero and Sterling. Hopefully we will see more of Pep’s passing sequences and positional play implemented in this City side, who at times last season showed what they could become. That’s something Gabriel Jesus is impressive at, he is tactically disciplined and knows how to pass the ball, a key element needed in a system run by Guardiola.

Passing

Gabriel Jesus possesses a high level of passing skills that are shown mostly when playing as a winger. He combines spatial awareness with vision to find his teammates in favourable positions throughout matches. His passes vary greatly when exchanging positions between a winger and a striker. When playing as as striker, he does a phenomenal job at acting as a pivot. Before getting into specifics, however, here are a few general clips that give an idea of Gabriel’s passing ability:

Notice one constant, he opens up his run towards the right before performing a low ground cross to find his teammates. Jesus massively improved this play as the weeks went on under Guardiola, since City’s main attacking threat are ground crosses. Scouts often point out how the Brazilian can be unselfish and generous at times. He never seems too impatient in front of goal, and is not afraid to take additional touches inside the box to find his teammates. Again, he dribbles with a purpose. Let’s take a look at Gabriel’s generosity inside the box:

The video shows various situations. In the first clip, Jesus decides to play Neymar for an easy 2v1 against the goalkeeper. The second clip shows Jesus already thinking of finding a teammate as he enters the box. The third clip shows Jesus being patient inside the box. As he recognizes his teammate is ideally suited for a comfortable shot, he dribbles towards him and passes the ball. Another attacker might have looked for a shot, however Jesus’s spatial awareness allows him to take wiser choices inside the football pitch.

Aside from spatial awareness and vision, the young boy also does a great job at timing his passes. At times throughout the match he can act as a ‘number 10’, completing through passes to find his teammates in more advanced areas. Such passes are deadly because they surpass defensive lines with ease. Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’s through passes between defensive lines:

The first clip shows Jesus cleverly moving in between the defensive line and the line of midfielders, to place a perfect pass behind the back of the defenders. The second and the third clip are a perfect example of Jesus’s characteristics. He attracts defenders, times his run, dribbles until his teammate is in a favourable position, and finds him with a penetrating pass between lines of pressure. Once again, he dribbles with a purpose.

A trait Pep Guardiola should try to exploit is Jesus’s ability to draw defenders centrally before playing out wide to the winger. Such a trend was seen regularly with Tite’s Brazil, and Manchester City could certainly benefit from Jesus finding the likes of Bernardo Silva, Sane, and Sterling as he does with his national team. Sound a little confusing? A video will most certainly explain this idea better than words do:

Jesus’s movement is pretty clear: he loses his marker, provides a passing option centrally, and plays the winger/full back towards the vacant space behind opposition full backs. I’m sure Guardiola could set up some positional play sequence to emulate this favourable situation for Gabriel with the Brazilian National Team.

Target Man

Despite his short height, Gabriel’s versatility allows him to also act as a ‘target man’. A ‘target man’ is required to hold onto the ball, have a physical presence, and play the way they are facing. Negredo and Llorente do a good job at defining what the basic ‘target man’ plays like.

As shown in these clips, Jesus can perfectly enter a physical battle with centre backs, despite his skinny frame. The first clip has Jesus control the ball facing his own net, hold on to the ball, and wait for his teammates perfect run to place him in a 1-v-1 situation. The second simply shows Jesus controlling a difficult pass in the air, and laying it off to Neymar. The last clip shows Gabriel bringing the centre back out of place, to then take advantage of that space to find Silva. His passing abilities come in handy when pivoting against centre backs, and Jesus does an exceptional job at escaping the last defensive line to move between lines and participate in possession. This can be seen in the following video:

These clips do a pretty well rounded job at explaining Jesus’s pivoting role. He escapes the centre backs initial pressure to drop back a couple metres and participate in ball possession. His spatial awareness helps him recognise passing lanes and potential space openings, so he regularly knows how to find himself in positional superiority. As shown in the beginning of this article, Jesus often suffers a high number of fouls per game. The first clip showing Jesus getting fouled involved more dribbling and wing play, but this clip shows the young Brazilian being fouled by centre backs while performing the ‘target man’ role:

As Gabriel does a successful job at holding on to the ball, or playing a one-touch pass the way he is facing, centre backs get frustrated quite often. They are mislead by the City attackers’ relatively insignificant size (1.75m/67 kg.) Due to his short height, Gabriel Jesus had to implement his physical presence in another manner. Because of it, he greatly improved his body orientation. Not only does he always take clever touches to control the ball wherever he wants to, but he beats defenders with his body as well:

Notice how Jesus steps in front of the defenders before beating them with force and body orientation. Upon Manchester City’s official announcement nearly a year ago, it is safe to safe that his ‘target man’ skills have improved the most. His ability to hold on to the ball, beat defenders with body orientation, and act as a ‘target man’ are all aspects Jesus purposely improved to be able to meet the physical demands of the Premier League.

Goals

Due to the lack of a defining term, and for the sake of this article, I have decided to name this type of finish the ‘Gabriel Jesus Finish.’ The GJ Finish involves the young Brazilian’s trademark finishing trait, in which he rockets the ball with a solid shot towards the upper area of the net. To illustrate this specific area of the goal, everything in the red falls under the ‘Gabriel Jesus Finish.’

Now that you understand this finish, let’s go ahead and look at Jesus implementing it during the game:

As shown, Gabriel has no problem finishing in the air. Like other strikers prefer ground finishes to beat the goalkeeper one-on-one, Jesus is extremely comfortable with his aerial finish. He is not afraid to miss the target, a scenario that’s greatly repeated when attackers attempt to finish in this fashion.

In honour of his enormous scoring capabilities, here is a video of all of his goals since being announced for Manchester City last summer:

Again, notice the variation between finishes. They range from one-touch finishes, chip shots, clinical strikes, long shots, penalties, headed goals, ground finishes and many others. His spatial awareness has proven dangerous inside the box, as he can also act as a ‘poacher’, or a striker who knows where to stand for the ball to reach him. A good example of ‘poacher strikers’ are Chicharito and Tammy Abraham. Although many of their goals may seem like pure luck and look physically unappealing, ‘poachers’ only need a minimum space available to locate themselves in a favourable position; knowing how to move inside the box is absolutely necessary to survive in the Premier League.

Conclusion:

Gabriel Jesus is versatile. He is quick, good at dribbling, can act as a ‘poacher’ or as a ‘target man’, and is a great finisher. Little more can be expected from an attacker. Pep Guardiola will have him from the start this season, a factor that could significantly help guide the path Manchester City will take this upcoming campaign.

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