Why Gabriel Jesus should start ahead of Firmino at the World Cup

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Gabriel Jesus of Brazil looks on during the International friendly match between of Croatia and Brazil at Anfield on June 3, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Gabriel Jesus of Brazil looks on during the International friendly match between of Croatia and Brazil at Anfield on June 3, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

Brazil start their World Cup campaign on the 17th of June hoping to take home the big prize for a record sixth time. Blessed with a plethora of talent, competition for a starting place at the tournament will be intense and head coach Tite will have plenty of selection headaches heading into the tournament.

One position that Tite will have to give a lot of thought is the center forward position. Gabriel Jesus had made the position his own since breaking into the national team but a strong showing last season from Firmino has raised doubts over Jesus being able to hold onto the position.

What makes the choice even more difficult is the similarity between the two forwards. Usually, when availed with two strikers, a coach usually has a clear choice on who to choose depending on his tactics for the game. But in the case of Jesus and Firmino, both offer the same thing to the team albeit with a few variations.

Both link with their attacking partners quite well, seamlessly interchanging positions and creating danger for the position. Both have decent playmaking abilities, great in front of goal and defend from the front relentlessly pressing opposition defenders.

While there are many similarities between the players, it cannot be argued that Gabriel Jesus is clearly the more athletic between the two forwards. That usually doesn’t count for much but when it’s the main difference between two players, it goes a long way into settling the debate.

Even with such commendable holdup play,  Firmino often suffers when he comes up against brute physicality. Gabriel although not the biggest frame is fully capable of holding his own and fending off defenders, allowing his teammates to get up the pitch in support. Often left alone up front, he will be required to do just that when Brazil sit deep and try to soak up pressure or even as they try to break forward.

This will give the team assurance that when they play the ball upfield to him, they will have some time to run up and provide support rather than just surrendering possession to the opposition. Firmino often relied on being able to quickly release the ball to Salah or Mane as they occupied positions quite high up the pitch, a luxury Brazil may not be able to afford him.

Traditionally a No.10, Firmino has been converted to a false 9 and he has thrived in the role. Often switching roles with Salah and Mane, he moves out to the wider areas whenever Salah or Mane tuck in. But it has to be said that he is most comfortable around the box making those delicate one-touch passes and linking with the other forwards.

In Brazil, the center forward will be required to be comfortable in the wider areas. Neymar has a free role and moves wherever he finds space, be it dropping into central midfield or closer to the goal. This will push Coutinho/Willian and Jesus/Firmino into the wider areas to take up the positions he vacates and there are doubts Firmino is able to do that.

Blessed with pace, a bit of physicality and trickery, Jesus has shown that he can still comfortably contribute to the team when pushed into those wide areas. Firmino is a slower and more nimble player often beating players with trickery and lacks the pace or physicality required in the wide areas. He is bound to struggle if pushed into wider positions for long periods.

There is no doubt that both Firmino and Jesus are quite potent in front of goal but Jesus is a more clinical striker. While Firmino scored plenty of goals last season, his movement and sharpness in front of goal are not that of a typical striker.

Jesus comes alive in the box, always finding space in the crowded area and knowing exactly when to be for a tap in or a rebound. And even when released one on one with the keeper, he has the composure to finish.

In their friendly against Austria, Neymar backheeled the ball back to Firmino who was clear on goal, he could only manage to hit it straight down the middle and the keeper saved it. Earlier in the game, Jesus has curled the ball around the keeper from a tight angle. Those chances probably confirmed each player role in the World Cup. That sharpness in and around the area might just earn Jesus the starting spot.

The World Cup is a short tournament, one where the coaches don’t have time to experiment with new systems and player compatibility. Jesus has been playing together with Neymar and Coutinho for some time now and that familiarity with them will count greatly in his quest to land the starting spot.

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And it has not been just a partnership, it has been a thriving partnership with Brazil laying waste to some big opponents during that time including World Cup favorites Argentina, and Uruguay. That partnership should continue to yield dividends in the World Cup.

Firmino might have given Tite plenty to think about during the just concluded league season but not enough to change his mind and push Jesus out of the team. Jesus will get the spot and hopefully show why exactly there is so much hype about his potential.