Manchester City fans have been rocked by reports that Gabriel Jesus could face around two to three months on the sidelines with a broken bone in his foot.
Well-placed sources in South America indicated the 19-year-old has fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot and the club later confirmed the injury, though City did not put a timetable on his return.
The injury is no doubt bad news for both the player and for City, and a blow to Pep Guardiola’s plans for the coming weeks, but it need not be the end of the world.
And not just because Sergio Aguero, City’s top scorer by far this season, will be the replacement.
Jesus has undoubtedly been in fine form for City and it is a cruel blow that his fairytale start to life at the club should be derailed so soon and so crudely.
With three goals and an assist from his first three starts, not to mention his consistent desire to do exactly what Guardiola wants when he does not have the ball, it should not have come as any huge surprise that Jesus usurped Aguero in the first team.
City’s front three, with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling out wide and Jesus as the focal point, had shown real promise in recent weeks and their youthful energy dragged the rest of Guardiola’s team up the pitch and into the faces of their opponents.
Jesus was the driving force and his infectious attitude clearly helped lift Sane in particular, with the German enduring a tricky start to his own City career as Guardiola explained that the pacy winger was “shy”.
That changed when Jesus arrived - the two have struck up a close friendship - and it is one of the many reasons why news of the popular Brazilian’s injury will darken the mood around the City Football Academy.
But all is not lost. While Jesus has proven to be an ideal spearhead for City’s energetic front three, he is a product of Guardiola’s latest system, not the architect.
Since the humbling 4-2 defeat at Leicester City at the start of December, Guardiola abandoned his more adventurous plans and reverted to a more simple back four.
Ilkay Gundogan’s own injury - which was suffered in the first game after Leicester - was another cruel blow but did at least provide a perverse silver lining which meant Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva could play in the centre together.
Sane hit his first City goal in the second game after Leicester but would miss City’s games over Christmas with injury, meaning De Bruyne, Silva and Nolito took it in turns to fill in on the left. None of them are at their best in that role and none of them can do what Sane, at his best, can.
City were far from convincing in league games against Hull, Liverpool, Burnley and especially Everton in Sane’s absence. The German’s return to fitness is actually just as key a factor in City’s recent fine performances as Jesus’ introduction to the team.
While Jesus waited for his paperwork to come through following his arrival at City at the start of January, Sane was recovering from a hamstring injury. Both hoped to feature at Everton but both missed the 4-0 thrashing.
Since that result, City have regularly looked superb. Sane has been in impressive form, beating his markers with ease and also showing an impressive eye for a pass, but his mere presence in the side has also enabled City to flourish.
With him on the left and Sterling on the right, City have two players perfectly suited to their roles, and two players that will inhibit the opposition full-backs just by setting foot on the pitch.
In turn, that has allowed Silva and De Bruyne to once again play together in the central roles they enjoyed so much at the start of the season - when Gundogan was also injured, incidentally.
As Sane and Sterling push the opposition back, Silva and De Bruyne are afforded more space in which to work their magic, which was something they just did not have when one of them was forced out wide, which led to a lack of chances being created for the striker.
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And while it was feared that Fernandinho’s absence from the side over Christmas and into the New Year would have an adverse affect, the form of the resurgent Yaya Toure has meant the Brazilian, one of Guardiola’s most trusted lieutenants, has hardly been missed.
City now have a system which works perfectly, regardless of the identity of the striker. With Sane and Sterling wide, De Bruyne and Silva in the middle and Toure minding the shop behind them, City have a functional midfield for the first time since they won their first 10 matches of the season, and a back four that aren't overly burdened with Guardiola’s most complicated ideas. Not to mention Willy Caballero, who looks more reliable than ever, in goal.
Aguero’s struggles, and the task he faces between now and the end of the season, has been well documented, and while he may not work as hard as Jesus, he still knows where the goal is. With City’s system now working almost as well as it ever has under Guardiola, he will get more chances to score than he had at the end of 2016 and into the New Year.
Jesus has undoubtedly been a breath of fresh air for City and his absence is a extremely disappointing for all concerned, but he is not the sole reason for the club’s recent fine form. Guardiola’s men are back on track.