Jack Grealish king of the free men, man of the match sign for Man City in the evening? That is what Pep Guardiola will be hoping for anyway.
City have launched a Premier League record bid for everyone’s favourite lovable rogue, even though most would agree that securing a striker and left-back should probably be taking priority.
Grealish’s influence for Aston Villa is impossible to overstate and his departure would be a bitter blow. Their loss would be City’s gain, though, with the midfielder capable of bringing a range of attributes to the Etihad Stadium. Here is how he could fit in…
Very good, very good indeed. Over the past two seasons he has been one of Europe’s most potent creators. Grealish is one of those rare, joyous players who combines incredible statistics with that indefinable ‘wow’ factor that makes football so romantic.
Capable of carving out opportunities off the dribble or with a pass, no Premier League player created more chances from open play per 90 minutes last season. City are already filled to the brim with playmakers and adding Grealish – who unpredictability adds another dimension to the attack – is a scary prospect.
Grealish’s ability to carry the ball is quite remarkable as well. In Europe’s top five leagues last term just five players – Lionel Messi, Rodrigo de Paul, Luis Alberto, Frenkie de Jong and Lorenzo Insigne – completed more progressive carries in league football. All of them played considerably more minutes than Grealish as well, with only Messi bettering his per 90 minutes numbers.
This ability to pirouette through defences with his rippling calves glistening in the sun not only makes him a neutral’s favourite, it also forms an important function for the team. He will likely have less space to work if he joins City – with teams generally setting up in a low block against them – but this shouldn’t cause too much of an issue.
Grealish can turn on a sixpence and create distance between his opposite man out of nothing, something Guardiola will be delighted to have at his disposal.
There is no doubting Grealish’s otherworldly talent on the ball, nor his creative prowess. However, could he have problems fitting in at City stylistically?
Comparisons to Riyad Mahrez have been made and it is easy to see why. Like Grealish, Mahrez joined City from a mid-table club in which he was the star attraction. Leicester’s entire attack went through Mahrez with the Algerian dwarfing his teammates for chances created, assists and carries.
Although he has more than gone on to justify his price tag – carving out a reputation as a big game player in recent years – there were some struggles at the beginning of his City career. It took Mahrez a while to adapt to his new side’s passing tempo.
At Leicester he was trusted to hold onto the ball for as long as he saw fit while Guardiola wanted him to move the ball along quicker. Mahrez has since adapted his game without sacrificing too much of his individualism. Grealish – who is afforded similar autonomy at Villa Park – may have to undergo a similar journey.
Out of possession Grealish might need some time to adjust to a greater defensive burden as well. City do not spend much time defending but when they are out of possession they are a ruthless pressing machine, the product of hours of shape work on the training ground.
Some have question marks over Grealish’s defensive game and although he may not have the elite positional sense required as yet, he certainly has the engine to be a Guardiola player. He registered 13 pressures per 90 minutes last season, the same as Georginio Wijnaldum.
There are several ways that Grealish might slot into the first team at City – and all of them come with a significant footnote.
Namely, Grealish is hard to tie down to one single position. Despite spending the majority of the 2020/21 campaign as a nominal left winger, his heat map was fiery in almost every nook and cranny in the final third.
Grealish could easily slot into Guardiola’s ridiculously strong rotation of wide forwards, though he may be frustrated by the touchline hugging nature of the role. No doubt he would find being asked to sit out of games frustrating – one of the key occupational hazards of life at the Etihad Stadium.
According to the Athletic, Guardiola currently views Grealish as a number eight in a similar mould to Ilkay Gundogan. This makes good sense. Previously a more conservative operator, Gundogan had his shackles removed last season.
The German used his new found freedom to drift between the lines to devastating effect, registering double figures for goals for the first time in his career. Grealish would likely be similarly effective in this position.
Right at the start of the summer, it was reported that a number of City’s players were not as content as they could be.
Frustrated by a lack of playing time, Aymeric Laporte, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and even Mahrez were said to be open to a move. Could Grealish’s imminent arrival push one of more of these players out of the door? Potentially.
His arrival will do little to help Sterling’s chances of nailing down a starting left forward spot after he drifted in and out of the first team last term. It is more difficult to imagine Mahrez departing with Paris Saint-Germain – who have already spent big this summer – his only potential destination, really.
Grealish could also push Bernardo Silva out of the side. His selection was equally bitty last term and after achieving so much at the club, he might also fancy a fresh challenge.
Again though, the problem will be finding a suitor. If Grealish is signed, it is unlikely that any major sales will be made this summer. Although the following transfer window is likely to be a different story with several of the aforementioned stars’ contract close to expiring.