Roberto Firmino or Gabriel Jesus: Who should Brazil opt for in the World Cup?
There are only five days to wait until the World Cup begins. As five-time champions, Brazil is under pressure to meet high expectations after producing a horror show on home soil in 2014, hammered 7-1 by Germany in the semi-final. Manager Tite has since assembled a star-studded squad. He has big decisions to make this summer, though. The main one being who to choose out of Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino, two prolific strikers.
Although Tite has already awarded Brazil's number nine shirt to Jesus, he will be a brave man to leave Firmino sidelined.
Which Selecao striker deserves to start at the World Cup?
Ever since making his Brazil breakthrough in the 2016 Olympic games, Jesus has been simply remarkable. The Manchester City youngster has earned Tite and Pep Guardiola's trust. He has provided a long-term solution to his nation's striking issues, having scored 9 times in 15 appearances.
Speaking about his World Cup role at a press conference last week, Jesus said:
This question of Firmino is good for me, for Brazil. Not only (to create competition) for the striker position, but all of them. He wants to play and that makes me want to improve too.
Fans love the boy who painted the streets of Sao Paulo at the Jardim Peri favela. Jesus' personality is adored in his homeland. Firmino receives no such adulation.
In a March friendly against Germany, Jesus was preferred to Firmino. The Man City forward repaid his manager's faith by scoring the game's only goal. He didn't put a foot wrong during the whole 90 minutes.
Such form persuaded Tite to admit that Jesus could be handed the captain's armband.
Having scored 27 times and provided 17 assists for Liverpool across all competitions, Firmino recently concluded his best ever season. The 26-year-old also helped the Reds reach the Champions League final, where they lost out to Real Madrid.
Looking ahead to the World Cup, Firmino had this to say:
Whatever Tite chooses between me and Jesus, I'll respect 100%. I'm here for the team when needed, to give my best for the team.
Hailed as the Premier League's most complete striker by Thierry Henry, Firmino is surely indispensable. He ticks all the boxes. Not only is the Liverpool star capable of playing in any forward position, he can defend, create and score. His incredible work ethic, as well as positional sense, suggests a particular position should belong to him.
In Brazil's 2-0 win over Croatia six days ago, Firmino replaced Jesus in the 60th minute. He scored an injury-time goal, lofting the ball over Danijel Subasic to seal victory. With Anfield playing host, he understandably received a standing ovation.
Firmino's performance ignited criticism from fans who oppose Jesus being named Brazil's talisman. The Liverpool striker is just as good at linking up with Philippe Coutinho and Neymar.
I concur with Tite:
Gabriel in the Selecao plays very well. So yes, today he is our No.9.
Despite Firmino's intelligent movement, selflessness and high work-rate, the proclaimed decision is to stick with Jesus.
During the World Cup qualifying campaign, Firmino scored just once in six appearances while Jesus netted seven times in ten games.
Firmino is arguably the better individual player of the two, but Jesus is more suited to Brazil.
In truth, the Selecao don't need a false nine. Neymar and Coutinho both require freedom in the final third to reach their zenith. Jesus stays high up the pitch, covering central defenders. Firmino, meanwhile, often drops deep, failing to serve as a target man.
Brazil need a genuine number nine, one to capitalize on chances. Firmino is not that. Although he is a world-class striker, his playing style doesn't suit Tite's side.
Firmino helps teammates by attracting defenders, keeping the ball at his feet. With him as the number ten, Tite can shape Brazil in a 4-2-3-1. Jesus would be the main striker, Neymar on the left and Willian on the right to offer his defensive capability.
It can happen. Tite believes so too, as reported by Sportsmole:
I can see Firmino playing with Jesus.
Firmino is originally a 10 who always played with a nine. He is a 10 who learned to play as a nine.