The role of Grealish in the new Manchester City squad
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Jack Grealish recently joined Manchester City in the summer of 2021 for £100 million from Aston Villa. He became the most expensive transfer in the Premier League eclipsing Paul Pogba’s £93.25 million from Juventus. He has inherited the number 10 shirt number that was vacated by Sergio Aguero who signed for FC Barcelona on a free transfer in the same summer. Becoming the most expensive player in the history of the Premier League comes with a lot of expectations and Manchester City will hope he will help achieve their goals for the season and that his best days are still ahead of him.

 

            Grealish operates best as a left-sided winger or an attacking midfielder on the left side. He’s not your typical winger, but more of a playmaking modern winger where he likes to cut inside to his dominant foot to either curl one in for an attempt or make plays and create chances for his teammates. He has stated in a recent interview that he wanted to be more of a playmaker for Aston Villa before the 2020/21 season in order to help Aston Villa stay afloat in the Premier League. As a result, he asked his manager, Dean Smith, to watch some films of Kevin De Bruyne to learn how to be more of a playmaker than a modern winger. The result of watching and learning from those film sessions paid dividends for Grealish and Aston Villa as he was able to produce his best statistical season in his career to date with 6 goals and 10 assists during the 2020/21 season to help Aston Villa stay in the Premier League. Considering he was the focal point of Aston Villa’s attacks he was the most fouled player in the Premier League last season with 110. The next most fouled player was Wilfred Zaha with only 88. While he may have been fouled the most, it’s the way he draws fouls that stands apart from the other players. The way he shields the ball from defenders with his legs and body as well as being direct and attacking defenders at will left defenders frustrated and no choice but to foul him in order to stop the attack.

 

            It wasn’t just the raw numbers that were elevated after watching De Bruyne. His overall statistical category improved as well. As a playmaker, there were fewer long balls from him with 1.2/game from 2.3/game in 2019/20, but his key passes per game increased from 2.5 to 3.1. He was able to influence the game in a more similar way and improved his vision in order to become a better playmaker in the final third which allowed him to register 10 assists.

 

            At Manchester City, you can expect a similar style of play from Grealish as he did when he was at Villa. While he may not be the focal attack for City with his idol and current teammate De Bruyne at the helm, he will still be able to make his presence known with his directness and his ability to create chances for his teammates when he has the ball to relieve some of the creative burdens from De Bruyne.

 

            However, one dilemma that manager Pep Guardiola will have when he fills out his team sheet is where to position Grealish. While Grealish is best adept at Attacking Midfielder left, currently that’s where Raheem Sterling occupies. As a result, in their first match against Tottenham in the 2021/22 season, Grealish was positioned as a central midfielder on the left side while Ilkay Gundogan occupied the other central midfield position on the right side with Fernandinho as the defensive midfielder. Grealish was tasked to help support Sterling in the attack from the central midfield position but also be a De Bruyne type of creative playmaker to break down the defense in his absence. While he played admirably and tried to influence the game as much as possible with his 2 key passes in the game, he wasn’t able to deliver City a win as City lost 1-0 to Tottenham. That’s not to say it was Grealish’s fault for City’s loss. Far from it. He was one of the best players for City in the game. But it’ll be interesting how Guardiola deploys him going forward because Grealish is most dangerous in the final third and in the first game, he wasn’t able to showcase that as he would’ve liked.

 

            Unless Guardiola either deploys Sterling as a false nine or drops him to allow Grealish to be positioned at his best position, Sterling will be occupying that position. While there could be a debate as to who’s the better player at the moment between the two, there’s no debate that Sterling’s the more established player based on his accomplishments and will, most likely, play on the left unless his form drastically dips or changes position. Thus, it’ll be difficult for Grealish to showcase what he is fully capable of if he’s not deployed at his favored position and could be met with criticism if he’s not performing. He’s not a David Silva type of player where he can play deeper and influence the game that way. He excels in the final third where he can attack defenders and create chances for his teammates or draw fouls. And while he may be positioned in the final third as a central midfielder thanks to Guardiola’s high defensive line and possession-based system, it’s different when a midfielder is in the final third as opposed to as a winger. There will be more defenders in front, one-on-one duels will be limited, and won’t be able to attack defenders at will because you have to be positionally disciplined. This limits one of his strongest traits and that is dribbling. He is not at the level of De Bruyne’s level of playmaking yet, and while he may get there eventually because he has the potential to do so if City should deploy him as a winger for the time being in order to get the best out of him. And the best way to do that is to sacrifice Sterling by deploying Sterling on the right-wing because he can still be influential.

 

            City fans are hoping it won’t be another Bernardo Silva type of situation where Silva flopped and failed to replicate his AS Monaco form at City. And while Silva and Grealish are two different types of players, one could argue they are somewhat similar when Silva was playing for Monaco. Silva was a playmaking midfielder who was adept at playing on the right wing or on the right side of the midfield. He was also a modern winger where he would cut back onto his favored left foot to create chances. But, once he made the transition to City, he wasn’t able the same player whether that was due to inconsistent playing time, not having a defined position or poor form. Thankfully, Grealish does have a defined position as an Attacking Midfielder Left, but if he’s not given that opportunity, it’ll be hard to replicate his best form on a consistent basis that saw him excel in Villa.

 

            Grealish’s role will be an interesting one because he won’t be positioned in his favored role all the time at City. But he will be tasked to produce similar results and be the creative force that City has badly missed ever since losing David Silva. De Bruyne has to shoulder all of the creative burdens after Silva’s departure, but now Grealish will be able to relive some of that burden and relish the opportunity to challenge and deliver trophies for City.  

 

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