Gabriel Jesus was the standout player as Manchester City thrashed Norwich 5-0 in their first Premier League home game of the season, but as a winger rather than a ‘number nine’.
Long earmarked as a potential replacement for Sergio Aguero, Jesus has scored 82 goals in four and a half seasons since joining City as a teenager in January 2017 yet has never looked consistently convincing as a central striker.
Those doubts about whether he is cut out for the role meant he started little over half of City’s Premier League games as a striker last season, with Pep Guardiola often opting for a winger or midfielder in a ‘false nine’ role in the other half of games and in Europe.
Aguero was injured, lacking fitness or simply unfancied for most of the campaign, which proved to be his last with the club, and so it was Jesus’ chance to stake his claim to be City’s main striker for the next few years at least. He is 24 and yet to hit his peak, he just didn’t take it.
Instead, City have considered an expensive transfer pursuit to fill the void and had Erling Haaland and Romelu Lukaku on the radar before turning their focus to Harry Kane.
Whether they are successful in landing Kane in the remaining two weeks of the transfer window will depend on how they are prepared to offer and whether it breaks Tottenham’s refusal to sell.
Naturally, the pursuit of a new striker has brought uncertainty to Jesus’ future in Manchester. And yet, it may be that he can forge a new path as a winger to extend his stay at the club and become an important player, if his performance against Norwich is anything to go by.
Jesus is no stranger to playing wide. He has done it sporadically in the past and actually scored in consecutive wins over Fulham and Leicester as a starter on the left flank last season.
As City and Norwich took to the Etihad pitch on Saturday afternoon, Ferran Torres was deployed through the middle and Jesus lined up on the right wing, where he proved to be a constant threat.
Norwich, it must be said, were poor. The Canaries were naïve in how they tried to play, making it easy for City to win the ball back high up the pitch and in midfield and exploit the gaps. But Jesus demonstrated exceptional wing play and racked up the assists.
It was his driven cross into the penalty area in the early stages that led to the own goal to break the deadlock. That won’t go down in his official stats, but his low cross turned in by Jack Grealish and his square ball to Raheem Sterling do. He could even have had another assist, putting Torres through, but the goal was chalked off following a VAR review for a foul in the build up.
Jesus had the skill and pace to beat his marker time and again. Norwich even swapped their left-back at half-time and it did little to stop him. When Riyad Mahrez came on for City in the second half, Jesus switched to the left flank and offered a different kind of threat there.
If City do secure a top ‘number nine’, Kane for example, before the transfer deadline, the kind of service that Jesus provided over 90 minutes against Norwich would be perfect.
It might have been the role that he was intended for when he arrived, but Jesus has a chance to reinvent himself to ensure he does become an important part of the next City chapter.