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It’s clear: Jack Grealish is Manchester City’s missing piece!



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Following on from a well-earned albeit somewhat fortunate draw at Anfield – a match note-worthy of Manchester City’s uncharacteristic sloppiness in possession and inability to take control of the occasion – many fans came away with the feeling that a significant contributor to recent success was missing and that his presence and capabilities would have been immensely beneficial.

Namely, a player adept at helping the side to control the tempo, a man who regularly influences big games and was integral in allowing Pep Guardiola’s side to dominate both England and Europe last year: Jack Grealish.

The 28-year-old was one of Manchester City’s most consistently excellent performers throughout last season’s historic campaign. However, Grealish has seen his hopes of continuing that fantastic form blighted by a series of injuries, which has led to a frustrating and disappointing stop-start season for the Solihull native.

Upon his arrival in Manchester, Jack Grealish often struggled and notably endured a mixed first season, an issue stemming from the trouble of adapting from a somewhat free role for a then mid-table Aston Villa side, to performing a contrastingly rigid and less liberal role in a higher-quality, more structured and intense system of play.

Despite his up-and-down first few months at City, the former Villa captain finished his initial season in Manchester well, notably with an impressive performance in the 2021/22 season’s penultimate game against West Ham. Having acclimatised, Grealish thrived throughout his second year and nailed down the left-wing spot as his own as a rampant City side bulldozed their way to Champions League glory, along with retaining their Premier League crown, and lifting the FA Cup.

Jack Grealish’s consistently excellent performances across the 2022/23 season drastically altered the opinions of many Manchester City fans who had initially expressed doubts, often unnecessarily, regarding his compatibility within Pep Guardiola’s system.

Unfairly however, the perceived dislike or lack of trust of Jack Grealish from many onlookers seemingly derived from a misunderstanding, or wilful ignorance of the tasks that the England international has been asked to perform by Guardiola – a role far different from what was expected of him by Dean Smith at Aston Villa.

Perhaps fuelled by ‘Centurions era’ nostalgia, some of the club’s supporters were seemingly dismayed that Grealish was not a winger in the mould of Leroy Sané or Raheem Sterling, but rather a player with a skillset more ideal for the style of play and system that Guardiola currently wishes to enact; a structure aimed at higher control and domination than previous versions of City set-ups during the Catalan coach’s tenure.

This ignorant perspective was again rife earlier this season following the signing of Jeremy Doku – a skilful, rapid, and marauding winger with a thrilling style of play more akin to Leroy Sané than Jack Grealish.

Doku has exceptional ability and is an exciting prospect, but he is and will remain, somewhat of a rough diamond for a while longer and will need time to fully adjust to the Manchester City system alike Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Rodri, amongst others. If history tells us anything, it is that Doku will soon flourish in Sky Blue, but will need time to settle and adapt.

Following on from this, the signing of Doku and the perceived poor form of Grealish early in the campaign led to much of the fanbase becoming divided over which of the aforementioned wingers should be starting on Manchester City’s left flank regularly. However, Doku’s inconsistency in recent weeks has almost created a feeling of, ‘You don’t realise what you have until it’s gone,’ amongst the City faithful regarding Grealish.

Nonetheless, Doku’s unpredictability in recent months is not to be unexpected owing to his comparative youth and inexperience with his teammates, whilst his mixed performances in Grealish’s absence have made it clear that the England international’s involvement leads to superior fluidity and cohesiveness in City’s attacking play. This is evident to the eye, but moreover, the data also supports this notion.

For instance, City average higher possession per game (66.78%) when Grealish features than when he is absent (64.42%), whilst perhaps not coincidentally, Pep Guardiola’s side has averaged 2.36 points per game when the Englishman has been involved, versus just 2.14 points per game when Grealish has not featured.

In addition, Doku’s propensity for picking the wrong pass in the final third is a common source of frustration amongst the City faithful, whilst the Belgian’s recent underwhelming showings against Manchester United, Brentford and Bournemouth have further highlighted Grealish’s importance to the side simply through the former Villa captain’s absence, and the stats evidence this observation.

For example, Grealish’s pass success rate in the opposition half is 83% – on par with Bernardo Silva, whilst Doku’s is a mere 78% – the lowest amongst City players who have played over 500 minutes this season (excluding Erling Haaland), indicating that City concede possession less frequently during attacking phases when Grealish is present.

Furthermore, the stats also evidence that Grealish creates 0.38 ‘big chances’ per 90 minutes, compared to 0.31 by Doku, a statistic suggesting that the Sky Blues are more likely to produce better scoring opportunities when the England international is playing.

Additionally, Grealish’s cross-success rate of 27% (the highest amongst City players who have played over 700 minutes) is also superior to the Belgian’s 20% – a stat which further indicates that higher quality chances are created when Grealish is present.

With Grealish in the line-up, it is evident that Manchester City are less tentative and more refined than when he is absent. The Englishman’s innate technical ability and creative prowess leads to enhanced fluidity, a higher quality of chances created, better ball retention and consequently, a better chance of winning matches, and therefore, trophies.

Put simply, Manchester City are a better side when Grealish is playing and with their number 10 scheduled to return to first-team action in the coming weeks, his presence may prove vital as Pep Guardiola’s side attempt to achieve a historic feat of winning the illustrious treble, back-to-back, as well as a fourth successive Premier League title.