Jesus, Man Metropolis defeated Lukaku, Chelsea within the recreation of groups struggling to get probably the most out of their strikers
LONDON – Any team with title ambitions needs a reliable number 9 to compete in the biggest games, and the duel between Champions League winners Chelsea and Premier League winners Manchester City on Saturday was decided by one of them. It happened to be the guy who spent all summer hearing that his team needed a new striker, rather than the £ 97.5m record that scored the crucial point when City scored 1 at Stamford Bridge : 0 won.
It was a day that Pep Guardiola and his players reminded everyone that in the Premier League, City continues to be the team to beat the Etihad.
And if we talk about memories, Romelu Lukaku’s disappointing performance for Chelsea also showed how the former Everton and Manchester United striker still has it all when battling the top teams and the best defenses.
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It was Jesus who played like the full center forward in that game, not Lukaku, and that was all the more surprising given that the City striker wasn’t even selected for his preferred position by coach Guardiola. Jesus spent all but the last eight minutes of that game on the wide right side of a front three, with midfielder Phil Foden coming down the middle as a false nine, but the Brazil international was a livewire from start to finish, squeezing on defenders Chelsea during and under a physical blow from Antonio Rudiger.
His goal – a close-range shot deflected by Jorginho on 53 minutes – was a reward for his efforts and ability to shake off the disappointment of having been out of position for most of the game. It was also enough to force Chelsea to their first loss of the season and end Thomas Tuchel’s three-game winning streak against City since replacing Frank Lampard as coach in January.
“Gabriel always gives everything,” said Guardiola. “You can’t tell him anything. In every single game he runs for his teammates in every single action. These types of players make me happy.”
In the high pressure games you learn most about teams, and both Tuchel and Guardiola will have emerged from this duel with new insights into their attacking game. Tuchel, for example, may have already recognized that his team will need more variety in the future to win the Premier League this season, as this defeat confirmed this.
Lukaku’s summer arrival from Inter Milan should give Chelsea the lead they lacked last year when Timo Werner was not a consistent goalscorer after his £ 47.6m arrival from RB Leipzig, but like last month against Liverpool, Lukaku failed to threaten City. The 28-year-old has certainly given Chelsea a focal point in the front and his hold-up play has improved a lot in his two years in Serie A, but his move remains predictable and he’s still not doing enough to get in on his quest after the ball when his team is struggling to deliver it to him.
Gabriel Jesus (left) emerged as the number 9 when Man City broke Chelsea’s winning streak in three games against them. Matt McNulty – Manchester City / Manchester City FC via Getty Images
Perhaps Chelsea needed Kai Havertz’s creativity right from the start, rather than a 60th-minute replacement, to get the most out of Lukaku. At some point he will have to pose a threat in these games if Chelsea are to win the title. When he adds the work speed and movement of Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane or Edinson Cavani, Lukaku will make Chelsea a formidable team, but right now he’s making life way too easy for the high profile defenders he faces.
City striker Jesus is a different player than Lukaku, but a center forward nonetheless. The fact that Guardiola did not trust him to fill the gap that Sergio Agüero left at Barcelona in the summer underscores the coach’s lack of confidence in the 24-year-old. City’s failed persecution of Kane will also have done little to boost Jesus’ confidence. But while City doesn’t see him as a solution to their quest for a world-class center-forward, Jesus Guardiola’s qualities allow them to play with a front three in the absence of Kane or Lewandowski.
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Jesus stretches out the defense and selflessly takes on physical challenges to keep the ball for his advancing teammates. And he’ll also hunt for balls or do the runs that make room for attack teams like Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and others.
“Sometimes we think we need a real striker to finish, but the most important thing is how we play,” said Guardiola. “The most important thing is to do it as a team and as a unit. It’s like last season. Sergio [Aguero] was injured all year and we won the Premier League. “
Jesus may never play through the middle again under Guardiola, but he can still be an asset and he showed that against Chelsea, who were practically no threat until the closing stages. Despite their late excitement, Chelsea ended the game without registering a shot on goal.
Yes, they started the season long before that loss, but Chelsea still don’t have the diversity of City and Liverpool when it comes to going forward. The hype at the start of the season suggested they are favorites for the title, but this was a much-needed reality check. City still needs a center forward, but they don’t lack players capable of winning big games.
Chelsea have yet to prove they have this in their locker.