At the start of the season, one of the big questions at Manchester City was who would start as first-choice striker. Would Pep Guardiola go with the reliability and experience of Sergio Aguero? Or take a chance on the youth and unpredictability of the raw and upcoming potential superstar of Gabriel Jesus?
Five games in, with 16 goals scored in the league, the answer looks perfectly obvious: play them both.
Guardiola always insisted the two forwards could play together and the early statistics bear that out. Aguero has five goals — one every 75 minutes on the pitch — and two assists; Gabriel has four goals — one for every 82 minutes.
Choosing between the two was a potential flashpoint for Guardiola but his twin strikers have so far been a perfect fit. Here are five reasons why.
Both want it to work
Guardiola has challenged both forwards to alter and improve their games and both have responded.
For Aguero it was a bigger request. The Argentine has proved his quality in six seasons at the Etihad Stadium — with an incredible return of goals which has left him just a few away from becoming the club’s greatest ever goal scorer. But Guardiola wanted more from him — working harder off the ball and joining the team press to win it back. Gabriel has been required to do the same since he arrived in January.
There was a good example of their hard work in Saturday’s 6-0 victory over Watford. Despite City’s dominance and constant threat they failed to find the opener in the first 25 minutes; Watford tried to create a rare opportunity, working the ball to right-back Daryl Janmat on the overlap but the two strikers sprinted to close him down, the Dutchman was forced to turn back. The break lost momentum and Guardiola was visibly delighted.
Aguero and Gabriel went on to score four goals between them, but their all-round effort and desire to win the ball back adds another edge to their games.
They have a good relationship
Aguero’s two assists this season have both been goals for Gabriel. His assist against Liverpool was picked up by Guardiola, who said it showed his quality. With the score at 2-0, Aguero was through against goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and, with his ability in one-on-one situations, would probably have scored himself. Instead he played a simple pass for Jesus, who then had an empty net to tap into.
The 20-year-old Brazilian rushed over to celebrate with his teammate after a goal that killed off any hopes title rivals Liverpool had of getting back into the game.
“That means a lot for me, what Sergio did — a lot,” Guardiola said after the game. “They are both good guys and exceptional players, and their relationship is top.”
Double option for teammates
It’s not just the strikers who are benefitting from playing together, it is giving City’s raft of creative players more options in dangerous positions.
City are stocked with players able to provide a killer pass in Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva. On top of that, Guardiola’s side is still creating width from the runs of full-backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker, who are then able to fire in a range of crosses.
Those options are causing opposition defences all-sorts of problems. They are liable to a quick through ball in the centre of defence and when crosses come in, they have to deal with the sharp movement with a striker going to the near post, back post or hanging back onto the edge of the box.
Central defenders don’t often come up against two strikers of such quality in modern football and many have found it extremely difficult to deal with so far.
Movement around the pitch
Although they are both strikers, their movement around the rest of the pitch makes them difficult to handle. Against Watford, Gabriel was often playing as a left winger yet his goal — from Aguero’s through-pass — came from a ball between Watford’s left centre-back and left-back.
Similarly Aguero is often happy to drop deeper into a more orthodox No. 10 position and his third goal against the Hornets was when he dropped off before driving at the defence.
It gives defenders a nightmare, not knowing whether to pass on the duties of marking the attacker as they switch across the field and whether to go tight if they move into midfield. With plenty of attacking quality in the rest of City’s side, a wrong decision can result in a goal from anywhere.
As well as they are working together, Guardiola has the option to move back to a more conventional 4-3-3, with wingers Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling not starting regularly this season.
Aguero and Gabriel know they have to give everything to keep their places and, while they have a good relationship, there will be a healthy rivalry to being the top dog. It’s certainly having a positive impact at the moment.
By Jonathan Smith