Gabriel Jesus’ Copa America performances give Pep Guardiola food for thought

As the upcoming club season draws closer, Brazil enjoyed some eagerly awaited success on the international stage – winning their first Copa America title for 12 years.

A highlight of Brazil’s undefeated campaign was the form of two Premier League stars, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino. Collectively, the pair registered nine goal contributions for their country with the Liverpool frontman scoring twice and providing three assists while Jesus added two goals and assists.

Much to the intrigue of Manchester City supporters, Tite deployed Gabriel Jesus as a wide attacking midfielder. The result was a more creative edition of Jesus, with his refined skills and technical qualities illuminating themselves in-keeping with his samba heritage.

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Despite being controversially sent off in the final, the 22-year-old succeeded in scoring and assisting against Peru, a feat he also achieved in the 2-0 victory against Argentina in the semi-final.

Such was the extent of his creative involvement, he attained an average rating of 7.3 (via Whoscored) for the tournament while averaging almost two key passes per game (1.7) – which is mightily impressive considering a quarter of his appearances were made as a substitute.

Pep Guardiola is mostly opposed to playing with two recognised strikers – City only did so on two occasions in the league last season – and thus, Gabriel Jesus’ new-found success in a wider role could broaden the club’s attacking arsenal.

City have a plethora of excellent attacking options, particularly talented wingers in the form of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Bernando Silva. Resultantly, the emergence of another candidate for a fiercely contested position may not signify the best news for City.

However, given Jesus’ largely inferior status in City’s setup – 21 of his 29 league appearances were as a substitute – increased tactical flexibility will only broaden Guardiola’s options.

The former Bayern Munich manager’s success with City and sheer domination of English football has been astonishing. The bedrock of this success has been the Spaniard’s unique brand of attacking football, where ball retention and meaningful utilisation of possession are paramount. However, while the genetic makeup of his style has remained constant the shape has altered: Guardiola used a five different formations as his imperious side successfully defended their Premier League crown.

Deployed in a wider role, Jesus is better equipped to contribute to Pep’s preferred style as evidenced by his passing statistics in the Copa America, where he totalled one additional key pass per game (1.7) to the average he attained in England’s top-flight for City last season (0.7).

Similarly, the 22-year-old’s number of passes per game increased significantly when playing for his country, achieving an average of 21.2 passes per game during Brazil’s triumphant Copa America campaign compared to his total of 12.3 passes per league game for the Citizens last season.

Naturally, his increased involvement in the attacking phase derives from playing wider – with increased opportunities to pass – rather than as the side’s focal point. That said, the purpose of this article isn’t to recommend a permanent repositioning for Jesus. Instead, it highlights his success in a position that he has been mostly untested in during his time at the Etihad Stadium.

No longer should Jesus solely be considered as Sergio Aguero’s understudy, but rather a player capable of operating as both an inverted winger and a centre forward.

His versatility has been no secret to Guardiola, who deployed the Brazilian forward at left-wing on a couple of occasions last season. But, crucially, all his appearances at the Copa America came on the right side of attacking midfield, a position where he has been mostly untried at with City.

Conceivably, in light of Jesus’ Copa America performances, the forward may receive increased involvement next season. Fundamentally, whether Pep Guardiola opts to utilise Jesus’ versatility or maintain his status as Aguero’s backup, Jesus’ success for Brazil diversifies the City boss’ attacking options.

Jesus’ international performances add another string to an already esteemed bow, potentially making the division’s outstanding team even harder to anticipate.

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