Where does Grealish fit in at Man City?

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August 6, 2021
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    Jack GrealishJack Grealish has become the most expensive English footballer after signing for Manchester City for £100m

    It's official – Jack Grealish has just become the most expensive English footballer of all time.

    The 25-year-old joins Manchester City for £100m – topping the £80m Manchester United spent on Harry Maguire in 2019 – as he swaps his boyhood club Aston Villa for his shot at superstardom.

    He has come some way from the young 18-year-old who spent a season on loan at Notts County back in 2013 and who has played a key role in bringing Aston Villa back into the Premier League.

    BBC Sport takes a look at exactly what Grealish will bring to Manchester City's squad, which was already overflowing with attacking talent, and why Pep Guardiola smashed the club's transfer record to bring him to Etihad Stadium.

    'There is room for Jack'

    The first name on the team sheet at Villa, Grealish may have been given a taster during the European Championship of what life may bring at City – and why he may need to be patient.

    He started just one of England's seven games – against the Czech Republic in the group stage – making four further appearances as a substitute. In the semi-final against Denmark, he came on and was then substituted as manager Gareth Southgate shuffled his team to get through a tight game.

    He played just 21 minutes of the final against Italy and with Pep Guardiola's tendency to rotate his team, Grealish might well have to share the duties with other regular starters including Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva.

    Despite the abundance of attacking talent already available to him, Guardiola has opted for Grealish. So what can the new signing offer that is different?

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    "You could put Jack in City's front three on the left, right or as a false nine – or further back in midfield – anywhere, really, and he would be immense," said ex-City and Villa defender Micah Richards, who identified Grealish as someone City should sign in May.

    "He was absolutely brilliant for Villa this season before injuries sidelined him but I think he would go to the next level at City."

    In 2020-21, City were aiming for an unprecedented quadruple, claiming the Premier League and Carabao Cup, but losing in the FA Cup semi-finals and the Champions League, as they were stifled in the final by Chelsea.

    Grealish and Man City attackers compared – 2020-21
    Grealish Sterling Foden Mahrez Silva De Bruyne
    Games played 26 31 28 27 26 25
    Goals 6 10 9 9 2 6
    Assists 10 7 5 6 6 12
    Chances created 81 39 36 44 27 80
    Dribbles completed 65 66 38 45 41 48
    Fouls won 110 41 34 30 18 31

    In Grealish, they have a player who had 16 goal involvements (six goals, 10 assists) in the league last term, as well as creating 81 chances, which is more than any City player, including De Bruyne.

    The Englishman also had more carries of the ball (543) than any of his new team-mates and his 65 dribbles was a total bettered only by Sterling's 66, but it is his ability to win free-kicks that may prove to be the biggest difference.

    Grealish was fouled 110 times last term, more than any other Premier League player, and with De Bruyne and Mahrez potent on set-pieces, it could lead to more goalscoring opportunities for someone such as centre-back John Stones, who netted five times during the last campaign.

    Richards said: "You know Foden can turn quickly with the ball, burst away from players and then look for the pass. It's what makes him so exciting to watch.

    "But part of the reason he plays so well for City is because of the players he has around him – he always has runners going this way and that, providing him with options and giving him space.

    "With Jack at Villa, he always has to make something happen on his own, and often does. He can turn a game on its head with his dribbling as well as his delivery, and he is just top notch in tight spaces.

    "Foden is exceptional and he is going to be one of the main men for City for years to come but there is room for Jack as well."

    Grealish, Foden and Sterling could form England's attacking line for forthcoming major tournaments and with Tottenham's Harry Kane also heavily linked with a move to Etihad Stadium, the Three Lions might form an all-Manchester City frontline.

    Where does Grealish fit into your Man City XI?

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    'If he had stayed at Villa he would be immortal'

    Villa were in the Championship when boss Dean Smith handed the captaincy to Grealish as he "leads by example" and they were promoted back to the Premier League at the end of the 2018-19 season.

    They survived in the top flight the following campaign – securing fourth-from-bottom spot on the final day – before rising to finish 11th last season.

    "At Villa he was the talisman and everything went through him," Dave Woodhall, editor of Villa fanzine Heroes & Villains, told BBC Sport. "But whether he can be that effective as 'just another player' at Manchester City, we shall see.

    "He will get success at City but if he had stayed at Villa, he would be immortal. He was local to Villa, we saw him grow up, become a great talent and was the focal point of the club.

    "There were a few years at Villa where he was inconsistent – but in the past couple of years, he has really burst on to the scene big style and become world class.

    "He has always been the big star at Villa – but how he is going to react and fit into another team where he isn't the big star?"

    Grealish has not escaped criticism during his rise to prominence. On the pitch, he has faced accusationsexternal-link of diving. Off it, he issued a public apologyexternal-link in March 2020 for breaching lockdown rules. In December, he was banned from driving after admitting two motoring offences.

    But Woodhall said: "He helps out in the community – he has done a lot of work with individuals.

    "He does come across as an all round, decent nice guy who – at Villa – was doing what he does, where he loves."

    'City's rivals are the only one that need to be concerned'

    BBC Sport's Simon Stone:

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    "It is a measure of the drive of Pep Guardiola and the ambition of Manchester City that despite having one of the best group of creative players in Europe, Jack Grealish was targeted to improve them.

    "Grealish has proved in extended moments that he has the vision and invention to excel at the highest level.

    "To those who argue he has never done it at the very highest level, or that he can drift out of games, or that too much of Villa's work revolves around him, the answer comes through Guardiola.

    "Grealish will not be allowed to coast, or showboat, or rest. Guardiola does not allow it. If he sees it happening, he takes action.

    "There is an argument Grealish is not even certain to start, given Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling are both capable of operating on the left flank where their new team-mate does his most effective work.

    "That won't bother Guardiola. He will choose on merit, not on the size of a transfer fee. The only people who need to be concerned about this deal are City's rivals."

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