Jack Grealish sat down this week and was asked to sum up his start to life at Manchester City. In a word, he said ‘difficult’. He can say that again.
It was this week in particular as he is in line for his first return to Aston Villa tonight since leaving his boyhood club for £100million in the summer.
There was a sense of inevitability than when Grealish went from being the main character at Villa to one of a large supporting cast at City it would look and feel different.
He’s front and back page news. His calves even have their own calendar.
But in almost every category on the pitch, where he should be judged, his output has dramatically dropped off; he’s drawing less fouls per 90 minutes, taking fewer shots, completing less dribbles, creating fewer chances, and his goal involvements average is half of what it was in his final season up the M6 at Villa Park.
Everything that made Grealish one of the most exciting players in the country for Villa and England has been stripped right back in his game.
Jack Grealish has opened up on his ‘difficult’ adaptation since joining Man City for £100million
Playing for Pep Guardiola is not easy but Grealish has not been the player he was at Aston Villa
‘I’ve found it a lot more difficult than I thought I would, adapting to a different manager and team-mates,’ Grealish told the Telegraph.
‘At first I thought I’d have more of the ball, get more assists and goals but it doesn’t work like that at all. I’ve had nowhere near as much of the ball as I used to get at Villa.
‘I wouldn’t say I’ve struggled, but I found it hard to get used to at the start. I’ve not had the assists and goals I got last season, but I’m never one to doubt myself.’
To the Villa fans that were left furious at his decision to leave, something he felt he had to do to test himself in the Champions League, there will likely be a sense of smugness that the grass has not proven greener so far in east Manchester.
Injuries hampered his last season at Villa but he still rounded out the campaign with 12 assists and six goals. Whenever he stepped out of the side they appeared to be void of ideas.
Joining City for £100m, he finds himself under the microscope for his displays every week
In almost every per 90 minute average he has dipped since his final season at Aston Villa
|Premier League – Jack Grealish||2021/2022||2020/2021|
|Team||Manchester City||Aston Villa|
|Passes per game||40.8||38.3|
|Fouls Won per game||2.4||4.2|
|Dribbles Completed per game||1.8||2.5|
|Chances Created per game||2.9||3.1|
|Shots (inc. Blocks)||16||50|
|Shots (inc. Blocks) per game||1.8||1.9|
|Goal Involvements per game||0.3||0.6|
Yet at City he is not the sun to which the earth orbits. He is one of many complimentary pieces that are being coached relentlessly to play football the way Guardiola wants it to be played – and the Catalan has no appetite to give his big-money signing a free pass.
‘I’m not thinking, “The best Jack Grealish we are going to see is next season”. I want to see it this season,’ Guardiola said recently, laying down the gauntlet.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that his switch to City was a mistake but it is undeniable that Grealish does not look like the player that with the ball at his feet could produce a magic moment at the drop of a hat.
That is one of the issues, he has less of the ball. City are more of a three, four, five-headed monster whereas at Villa, stopping Grealish went a long way to limiting the danger.
What he is doing more of is passing and that comes as surprise to no one when Guardiola, someone who is so possession hungry, is his coach.
‘Maybe at Villa, everything started with him and he was free. Now he’s in a new position and maybe has not been so determined or so clinical in the final third,’ Guardiola added.
He was Dean Smith’s go-to man at Villa but at City he is part of a star-studded supporting cast
The Villa fan (right) has shown flashes at City but he is still waiting for a breakout performance
‘Maybe because he respects his mates, because it’s a new environment. That’s normal, it’s a process.
‘He needs time. But what he sees and what he has to do, is so easy for him with the quality he has.
‘Just be free here and be who you are, that’s all, no more. When they get the ball close to the box, you decide whatever you want. That’s why you are Jack Grealish and not another player. They have to play and make their moments.’
While it is not something he can control, his £100million price tag brings immense pressure and scrutiny. It is a fee that requires instant results or questions are asked. So far Grealish is falling short of the expectations placed upon him.
One goal in nine Premier League starts is hardly setting the world alight.
But what Grealish should look at is that he is one of a production line of talent that has found season one under Guardiola a slog.
Rodri, Joao Cancelo, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva have all shown dramatic improvements in recent years but made underwhelming starts when they arrived.
Take Raheem Sterling, in a similar mould to Grealish in that they are often deployed down the left side of the attack.
Sterling scored seven goals in his first season under Guardiola but was transformed second time round as he scored 18 goals the following season.
Guardiola (right) feels Grealish (left) is being hard on himself and that displays have been good
He netted on his Champions League debut against RB Leipzig but needs more big moments
‘This happens quite a lot during Pep Guardiola’s time at Manchester City when you see a player come in during that first six months and you think, “I’m not quite sure they fit in, I’m not quite sure they are at the level that City have had in the past”,’ Gary Neville said recently. ‘And then they just tend to grow and grow and get better.’
Guardiola added: ‘Here I demand they play the best every single game and after we try to analyse the reason we did not play at a good level and we are going to help you. So far Jack Grealish, in the games, always plays good.’
Grealish has shown flashes, scoring on his Champions League debut against RB Leipzig, which came with a knee-slide celebration.
They’ll be nothing like that should he feature and score against Steven Gerrard’s Villa.
‘I don’t see anything other than a positive reaction, but once the game starts, he’s the enemy and we want to compete against him,’ said Gerrard.
‘We want to make it as difficult as we can for him and his team.’
Back in familiar surroundings, Grealish will look for a breakout performance that can ignite his City career. He had many a famous night under the lights at Villa Park and he needs another one now to silence his doubters.
He returns to Villa in need of a display as Guardiola is not willing to write Grealish’s season off
Players like Riyad Mahrez (left) have improved massively after their first season with Guardiola