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Jack Grealish’s latest injury is a major blow for Manchester City… but could Matheus Nunes be the answer?



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In the latest entry to his City Xtra column, Amos Murphy asks whether Matheus Nunes could be the answer to the Jack Grealish-shaped hole left behind by the Englishman’s injury issues.  

It felt like history repeating itself against Luton Town for Jack Grealish and Manchester City. After a stylish first 25 minutes or so, when City looked like they’d found their rhythm again, the Englishman goes down injured and is substituted off the pitch. 

Frustration for Grealish, Pep Guardiola and City in general. There’s no other way of dressing it up, City are a better team with the former Aston Villa man in the side. But, within City’s ranks lies a player who could plug the gap Grealish is leaving behind ahead of what looks like a season-defining run of fixtures… Matheus Nunes.

The joy of Grealish is that it allows Guardiola and City to effectively deploy another midfielder in their starting XI. He’s not a winger who will drive at players 1vs1, or get down to the byline for cutbacks – we’ve established all of that by now. It’s the control element Grealish brings that makes him so impactful to this star-studded City side. 

Without him, City have looked disjointed. Summer signing Jeremy Doku came into the side and has at times dazzled, while at others flattered to deceive – that’s only natural, he’s 21 years old. Yet, with the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal on the horizon for City in the Premier League, along with key clashes in the Champions League and FA Cup, the Blues need to find a solution for their left-hand side.

What if the answer has been lurking under our noses this entire time, with Guardiola teasing the introduction of Nunes out wide for some weeks now? It first debuted (kind of) in the second half against Everton, albeit on the right-hand side, when City were chasing the game late on. Nunes playing as a wide midfielder – this time on the left – returned last weekend too, with the Portuguese international starting the match against Bournemouth in that position. 

It makes sense, right? Much like Grealish before joining City, Nunes has spent most of his career as a central midfielder, and his early showings for the Blues in the middle have returned results with varying degrees of success. And on top of that, both Grealish and Nunes’ playing styles are somewhat similar.

It’s something backed up by the underlying stats as well. According to FBRef, Nunes and Grealish average 49 passes per 90 minutes, at least four of which are progressive passes, and the pair both boast a passing accuracy percentage of around 85% each game. 

Jack Grealish (avg. per 90 minutes)Matheus Nunes (avg. per 90 minutes)
Passes attempted49.0949.94
Pass completion percentage85.2%84.5%
Progressive passes4.214.32
Progressive carries 5.972.94
Succesful take-ons2.202.35
Shot-creating actions4.953.17
Jack Grealish vs Matheus Nunes (as per FBRef)

Simply saying Nunes is the answer to replacing City’s treble-winning left-winger is a complete oversimplification. There are aspects of the two’s game which are nothing alike. Nor is it a suggestion that in those big matches, Nunes should be the man assuming the starting role. But Nunes is an option that could succeed in that role if given the chance.  

With Grealish’s fitness a liability for City right now, and the important fixtures ramping up week in and week out, there might just be something in giving Nunes a run of fixtures in the wide left position. He’d provide that ‘midfield-type’ player out wide that City have lacked in Grealish’s absence, with the pair sharing that similar jinking playstyle and ability – when necessary – to change the tempo of an attack. 

It’s unlikely to be the tweak that ends up winning City another treble – that will be down to the fitness and form of the Blues’ standout men elsewhere. But Nunes adopting the furthest left position in attack could prove a useful asset in the run-in… he’s certainly got the talent!