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City patience with Jesus may well be wearing thin

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Opportunity has knocked for Gabriel Jesus. Photo: Dave Thompson/Pool via Getty Images

Opportunity has knocked for Gabriel Jesus. Photo: Dave Thompson/Pool via Getty Images

2020 Pool

Opportunity has knocked for Gabriel Jesus. Photo: Dave Thompson/Pool via Getty Images

Four minutes of the second half had elapsed at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday night when Gabriel Jesus intercepted a throw-in from Andrew Robertson on Liverpool's left. There was work still to do to get to goal but the Manchester City striker skipped stealthily past his compatriot, Fabinho, to leave just another Brazilian between himself and a fourth goal for the home side. Alisson was expecting to be worked but the rushed shot that arrived lacked pace and direction and the save could not have been simpler.

It was Jesus' strengths and weaknesses in microcosm. He had put himself in an inviting position through his hunger, work rate and anticipation but, not for the first time in his City career, failed to find the finish when it mattered.

In the end, it made no difference to the outcome. City were rampant and Liverpool, for once, had no answer as the dethroned champions put down a marker for the remainder of this season, and next. But what happens in those games where the margins are that bit thinner - the Champions League knockout stages next month perhaps - where a striker may get one chance, two if he is lucky, and can ill afford to be so wasteful?

It is two years since Jesus scored that dramatic 94th-minute winner at Southampton on the final day of 2017/18 to chalk up an unprecedented century of points in the first of Pep Guardiola's back-to-back titles.

City are back at Southampton tonight but the same questions that were being asked about Jesus then are still being asked now and, while there is little doubt about the Brazilian's character, popularity among team-mates, and value as a support act to Sergio Aguero, he still looks no closer to being the long-term heir to the Argentine.

Aguero will not play again in the league this season following knee surgery last month and, given the time it usually takes him to get back to speed after a lengthy lay-off, there are no guarantees he will be fit enough to lead the line when City resume their pursuit of Champions League glory in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie against Real Madrid on August 7 or 8.

Opportunity has knocked for Jesus before but it has not always looked a burden he is comfortable carrying. There was a goal in City's 2-1 win over Real at the Bernabeu in February, when he was preferred to Aguero, but his fellow South American has set such a high bar that rising to it consistently would prove beyond most strikers.

"No one can compare with Sergio and what he has done in his career," said Pep Guardiola after the Liverpool game. "Gabriel gives us something that is perfect for us because they are complementary - what one guy has, the other one maybe struggles with and vice versa. Gabriel helps us to be more aggressive. He is a fighter. I remember how many goals we have scored in the last three, four, five games because of him. Gabriel is something special."

Jesus is certainly a fighter, and when it comes to pressing from the front, he has few equals. But as Aguero, 32, enters the final year of his contract, City will soon have a decision to make on Jesus: enlist him as their first-choice centre-forward when Aguero does go or enter the transfer market.

Perhaps when Aguero departs, it will relax Jesus and he will finally step out of the great man's shadow but those rough edges in front of goal still need a lot of smoothing, as do the timing of his runs given how often he is offside. Even in the first half against Liverpool, there were moments when you would have backed Aguero to score in positions Jesus could not exploit.

"I don't think he's the answer," said Roy Keane, the former Manchester United captain. "He's a good squad player but in terms of replacing Aguero, that's a big ask."

Time will tell, but he needs to start kicking on.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk