Perhaps taking a page from legendary Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson’s playbook, he is out with the old at Manchester City and with the new in what has been a busy transfer window to date.
After winning a fourth Premier League title in five seasons, City said goodbye to long-time and reliable midfielder Fernandinho, while sanctioning the departures of strikers Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling; The latter’s transfer to Chelsea is expected to take place in the coming days.
It’s certainly a risk from City’s perspective, particularly with Jesus and Sterling joining big six clubs Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, but the reigning English champions feel it’s worth taking as they revamp their squad.
There will no doubt be plenty of attention on newcomers Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez and Kalvin Phillips (sorry Stefan Ortega), but Pep Guardiola will also need other members of the squad to intensify City’s quest for more top honours.
That’s a category that Jack Grealish, now in his second season at the Etihad Stadium following last year’s £100m British record transfer, fits into on the back of a rather mixed first 12 months in Manchester.
Unusually for such a large transfer of money, and for a player who moves between clubs in the same league, Grealish had a period of adaptation at City and occasionally slipped under the radar – until May’s title celebrations, that is!
But with Sterling gone, the former Aston Villa star must now deliver if Guardiola’s gamble is to pay off. Here, Stats Perform breaks down exactly what Grealish offers City and the areas he may still be able to improve on.
Allowing Sterling to leave would not have been an easy decision for City, even if he became more of a peripheral figure in his final 18 months at the club, coinciding with a 2-0 loss at home to Manchester United in March. 2021.
The versatile striker had started 70 per cent of City’s games in all competitions between his debut and that loss to United, compared to 53 per cent of the Citizens’ 77 games thereafter.
He was named among the substitutes in both legs of the thrilling Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, as well as last day’s clash with Villa in the Premier League.
But, tellingly enough, it was Sterling whom Guardiola turned to from the bench in the first leg against Madrid, with Grealish playing as a spectator throughout the match, as was the case in that game against Villa when City were chasing three goals.
Put simply, Guardiola felt he had better options than Grealish when he needed goals. But with the absence of wide forwards Sterling and Jesus, surely that won’t be the case this season, unless, of course, the plan is to rely on Haaland up front.
STATISTICS DON’T LIE
Grealish made 39 appearances for City in all competitions in his first season at the Etihad, including 31 starts, putting him level with Riyad Mahrez (31 starts) and behind Sterling (32) and Phil Foden (36). in a similar area of the tone. Jesus, by the way, started just 28 games for City in 2021-22.
While that’s a pretty eye-opening stat in its own right, Grealish, let’s face it, the hugely disappointing direct goal share of just 10 in a high-scoring city team is what drew the most attention when looking at his first year under Guardiola. .
Eight other City players directly contributed to more goals in all competitions last season, with Sterling registering a combined 15 more goals and assists than Grealish. Mahrez, now well prepared to play in Guardiola’s complex system, led the way with 33.
Grealish himself admitted midway through last season that he needed to play a bigger role in front of goal, but felt the stats didn’t really reflect his performances in the final third.
“I think [stats] they are important because at the end of the day that is what people look at, like how many goals we attackers have. Especially when you come to a club with the price that I did,” he said.
“If you don’t get something [goals and assists] during a few games, everyone starts talking. I think they’re important, but there will be times when you’re playing well and the goals and assists just don’t come. That’s what I’ve been feeling recently.
“In the Watford game the other day I could have scored four or five and I walked off the pitch with nothing. Even in the Leeds game, we scored seven goals too and I only scored one.”
In that Watford match mentioned by Grealish, the England international finished with an expected goals (xG) value of 0.83 in his 68 minutes on the pitch, but failed to find the net in any of his five attempts, three of which which ones went to the door.
That compares with two goals from three shots for midfield team-mate Bernardo Silva at an xG of 0.28, with Sterling scoring City’s other goal in that 3-1 Premier League win at Vicarage Road.
… OR THEM
That Watford game was very much a microcosm of Grealish’s time at City to date, with the underlying figures backing up his earlier point that his efforts might not pay off.
His four assists in 2021-22, for example, came from an expected return on assists (xA) of 7.08; that 3.08 differential is the highest of any City player. Sure enough, had his teammates taken advantage of certain opportunities, Grealish’s season would have taken a slightly more positive turn.
In fact, the 78 chances created by the 26-year-old last season were second only to Kevin De Bruyne (129) among City players in all competitions, although only 10 of them were defined as ‘great chances’ by Opta. , which is the same number as central defender Aymeric Laporte.
This is in no way to say that Grealish’s shortcomings last season were due to those around him. However, if he really wants to prosper under Guardiola, he will surely have to loosen his shackles if he is to see the Grealish who lit up the Premier League with Villa again.
The Grealish who plays with freedom and style, the reason Guardiola lobbied hard for the club to pay a nine-figure transfer fee, after all, was present for England in their last Nations League games .
He made a big impact down the left side from the bench with England losing to Germany, scoring six touches in the opponent’s box despite playing just 18 minutes, which was double that of any England player other than Harry Kane (seven).
Grealish then played a part in the incident that led to England being awarded a penalty which Kane converted to snatch the 1–1 draw. That’s very much the difference-making cameo that Guardiola didn’t see enough of last time.
The good news for Grealish is that he can be provided with more opportunities to attack opponents now that City have a target man in Haaland to target. The deft passing moves won’t go away, as such, but Haaland is a completely different stature to any player City had at the top last season.
And after a full year working with Guardiola, including a first pre-season, Grealish will now be much more used to the demands expected of him if he is to become a regular starter.
“I’m trying to keep improving all the time and I know for a fact that the longer I’m here, the more I’ll improve,” he added in that interview seven months ago.
Now that the old guard is gone, the time has come for Grealish to show he has what it takes to thrive under Guardiola.