ESPN FC - Brilliant Champions League draw for NapoliMar 18
Manchester City v Lyon: Gabriel Jesus ready to deliver holy grail as he steps out of Sergio Aguero’s shadow
Doubts remain over Jesus as a capable deputy for Aguero. Can he fire Man City past Lyon and a step closer to the Champions League trophy? Find out from 7pm on Saturday 15 August.
The prognosis would have been different if Juventus had beaten Lyon as expected, but Manchester City are outright favourites to win the Champions League.
Their holy grail, so sought-after by benefactor Sheikh Mansour and the one that has eluded them despite lavish spending and a subsequent trophy blitz is within reach.
The outlook was significantly bleaker when news broke that City’s greatest ever goal scorer Sergio Aguero sustained a serious knee injury in June and was likely to miss the remainder of the season.
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He has been out of action ever since, leaving Gabriel Jesus to deputise.
Doubts remain over whether the 23-year-old Brazilian is ready to replace one of the most potent marksmen the Premier League has ever seen.
He has struggled to shake a reputation that he is wasteful in front of goal and is yet to completely emerge from the shadow of his Argentinian teammate.
The difficulties of replacing such a generational talent are clear, but if reservations about his competence were extensive, he has gone someway to appeasing the cynics after a number of impressive performances.
Jesus played one of his best games for the club against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu pre-lockdown, notably when Aguero was fit.
Operating as a false nine from the left-hand-side, he worked tirelessly up the flank, putting in a defensive shift and consistently troubling an experienced Madrid back line.
He was rewarded when he cannily ghosted off the back of an oblivious Sergio Ramos to head a Kevin de Bruyne delivery cross past Thibaut Courtois.
Ramos denied Jesus a second goal with minutes to play when he hauled him down as he was about to pull the trigger, but it was an assured and astute display from the forward.
Over five months and a series of improved Premier League performances later, Jesus helped City finish the job they started in February by scoring one and providing another for Raheem Sterling as Pep Guardiola’s side claimed a 2-1 victory on the night to win 4-2 on aggregate.
The usually serene Raphael Varane was unable to cope with his intense pressing and he maintained his relentless work rate throughout a frenzied 90 minutes behind-closed-doors at the Etihad Stadium.
Jesus earned lavish praise from his manager after becoming just the second player to score in both legs of a Champions League knockout tie against Real for an English side, after Ruud van Nistelrooy with Manchester United in 2002-03.
“This competition will punish you but Gabriel made his contribution,” said Guardiola.
“Gabriel was the man of these two games. He scored in Madrid, won the penalty, and then today he made an assist and scored a goal.
“[He] always helps with more than goals, but for a striker, it’s important to score. For big players, it’s important to show on the biggest stage.
“He has done it twice and he made a big step to say: ‘Here I am, I can win games myself’.”
Jesus allowed himself to dream of guiding City to European glory after a transcendent performance over two legs on the grandest stage.
“The reality is that all the teams involved in the final eight are going to have a chance to win the competition,” he said.
“Obviously, we have the right to dream and we should start dreaming about winning the Champions League. I'm a dreamer and I see myself with the trophy in my hands.”
Statistically, Jesus is comparable with some of most prolific strikers in the Premier League.
He finished the season as the joint 13th top scorer in the league with 14 goals in 21 starts and an expected goals per game (xG) of 0.82.
His non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes (npxG) was the highest in the league at 17.7. This was 3.7 goals more than his actual return.
The numbers reveal that Jesus routinely gets himself into goalscoring positions but he is not as clinical as some of his peers. Only Sheffield United’s David McGoldrick and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino endured a more underwhelming season in front of goal.
Unlike those two players, though, Jesus remains in the formative years of what promises to be a long career for club and country. He has proved that he can influence and score against the biggest teams but he must build on an encouraging 2020 to prove he can assume the mantle when Aguero moves on.
What’s more, his recent performances have shown that he adept across the frontline and that he shouldn’t be viewed exclusively as a traditional number 9.
Next in Jesus’ crosshairs are Lyon who sensationally dumped Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus out of the competition courtesy of the away goals rule. Confidence will be high in the French side's camp.
They beat City in Manchester in last season’s group stage and Memphis Depay and co. will be targeting Guardiola’s defence who can be susceptible to lapses of concentration.
City are overwhelming favourites but midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, a veteran of European competition, issued a stark warning: “Lyon have nothing to lose and they will be highly motivated,” he said.
“They will see this as a huge chance to reach a semi-final in 90 minutes. I’m not already thinking about a possible semi-final yet.”
This is Jesus’ moment. If he continues to add goals in major games, he can step out of Aguero’s shadow and fire City a step closer to European glory.
Watch Jesus and Manchester City take on Lyon in the Champions League quarter-final in Lisbon from 7pm on Saturday 15 August on BT Sport 1 HD, Ultimate and online.