Manchester City are fresh from announcing their first major signing of the summer transfer window, and we take an in-depth analytical viewpoint at just what the Premier League holders’ latest addition will bring to the table.
The former Aston Villa captain joined City in a deal worth a record-breaking £100 million, and with Jack establishing himself to be one of the most creative and composed players in European football over the past two seasons, having even earned the respect and hopes of most English fans during the Euro, Pep has considered the midfielder to be worth the considerable expense considering his vast experience at a young age.
The transfer has surprised not only the fans but also most of the betting sites. One of them, casumo sports betting, predicts that Guardiola squads can defend the English Premier League 2021/2022. In contrasting fashion to the first two of City’s three Premier League triumphs under Pep, the success of last season was largely due to the effectiveness of the defence and the solidity of the back line – with the partnership of Rúben Dias and John Stones forming the bedrock of Guardiola’s latest triumph.
The statistics, though, showed a concerning decline in Manchester City’s offensive prowess.
Whilst City finished 12 points ahead of second place Manchester United, they were noticeably less free flowing and deadly in front of goal than in previous years. Throughout last season, Guardiola’s side recorded an average of 2.18 goals per game.
That is an astonishing stat from a side who’s been known to score countless goals for fun, embracing the ideology of beautiful football taking precedence over defensive solidity, but rather, attack is the best form of defence. This all changed last season – just to give you a clearer picture for reference, throughout the 2019/20 league season, City averaged 2.68 goals per game, whilst in the 2018/19 and 2017/18 seasons the side recorded 2.5 and 2.79 goals per game respectively – thus showcasing the alarming downturn in the club’s attacking potency in front of goal throughout last season.
That being said, it is not everyday you end up coping with one of the best defenders in football, in the form of Ruben Diaz, who transformed a jittery back line to a more confident and solid one. But Pep knows that to continue and build on this he would have to correct the balance of the team and add creativity upfront.
Hence, Jack Grealish.
Grealish joined Villa when he was six years old, and he spent nearly 20 years at the club. Born in Birmingham and raised in nearby Solihull, the 25-year-old has spent almost the entirety of his career at Aston Villa, and the former captain made 213 appearances for the club since his debut in May 2014, ironically against Manchester City.
The England international has seen his reputation within the game progress immeasurably in recent years, and with the player himself perhaps realising that he has achieved the maximum possible at Villa, he has looked to sought a new challenge.
Grealish is widely regarded as one of the most creative players in the Premier League, and consequently, is often compared to the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, who is in my opinion the best creative midfielder in the world.
However, whilst this is heavy praise, it is warranted praise, as the statistics support the notion that Grealish deserves to be held in a similar regard to the likes of the aforementioned De Bruyne given his creative output with all due respect to Villa, for a lesser team.
Throughout the 2020/21 league season, Grealish recorded 10 assists and six goals within 26 appearances for Aston Villa, as he captained his side to an 11th place finish in the English top-flight, a great position for Villa to achieve.
Whilst these stats are not out of this world, it’s worth noting that Aston Villa are a far less proficient side in attack and have the ball much less than City, so it is possible to conceive that Grealish playing alongside the likes of De Bruyne himself, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden, all like minded players, will yield greater numbers for the midfielder going forward.
Testament to this, throughout the 2020/21 Premier League season, only Kevin De Bruyne (3.2) bested Jack Grealish’s recording of 3.1 key passes per game, thus showing his vision and precision when passing and in possession.
Grealish also managed to create 70 opportunities from open play – second only to Bruno Fernandes (77) – although he played 11 games fewer than the Manchester United star. City’s latest recruit, however, averaged 2.88 chances created from open play per game – the highest in the Premier League.
With his ability to pick a pass and create a chance statistically evident and even more so evident in each and every game we see, another impressive attribute of Grealish’s game is his ability to protect the ball, be brave enough to always want to receive it, retain possession and still manage to pick the right pass accurately. This is shown in his remarkable 83.3% passing success rate – a percentage superior to a plethora of Premier League midfielders including Paul Pogba (83%), De Bruyne (81.7). Even Fernandes (78.3).
In recent years, Grealish has established a reputation as being a fierce dribbler and an effective carrier of the ball. His renowned dribbling ability frequently produces chances, goals, and the winning of set pieces. He is also very adept at taking free kicks and corners as well. He is very much a playmaker.
Grealish possesses a low centre of gravity, and knows how to use his body well to shield the ball, which in conjunction with his burst of pace, and great balance, allows him to engineer his runs appropriately and almost glide past opposition defenders without much effort. Moreover, his dribbling ability often leads to set pieces being awarded in dangerous areas, with opposition defenders often struggling to keep up with his style of play.
A magnet for fouls, perhaps maybe the reason why he wears his socks to his ankles, Jack Grealish won 110 free-kicks last season – the most in the Premier League despite missing many games through injury. Grealish also holds the record for fouls won in a single season with 167 – a record that the player considers to be a ‘compliment’, as his penetrative runs frequently cause problems for defenders.
Whilst Grealish’s driving runs and chance creation is renowned and forms a key element of his game, the England international is also an accomplished crosser of the ball – with this ability on show at the European Championships. Grealish provided two vital assists in the tournament and his innate ability to beat his man and then pick out a precise, well-weighted cross could see Grealish become a key player at City.
Although primarily a creative talent, the Aston Villa academy graduate also carries a significant goal threat and has often showcased his abilities in front of goal with the England star having scored 14 times in his last two seasons.
Where will he play?
One of the key reasons for Manchester City being comfortable parting with a Premier League record £100 million to acquire his services is his ability to operate effectively in numerous roles across the midfield and forward line.
Offering positional flexibility, Grealish is a utility player that can perform efficiently as an eight, a 10, or as a left-winger, but with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden at the club, it is deducible that the new recruit has been taken on as a midfielder. He is comfortable in a multitude of positions.
Grealish has previously admitted that he considers himself to be more of a midfielder than a winger, and given the player’s skill set and excellent positional sense, Pep Guardiola could easily play him as a number eight – in a role similar to İlkay Gündoğan or Kevin De Bruyne.
Intelligent movement off the ball, intricate and careful with it, and take into account he is ambidextrous, Grealish possesses the attributes needed to operate within a Pep midfield, whilst his dribbling ability and knack to carve through opposition defences will offer the City midfield a new ace up their sleeves.
Grealish is, of course, perfectly capable at operating as a winger as well, not being the paciest he doesn’t rely on speed but rather his technical abilities to beat a man, he has done this expertly on the left wing for Aston Villa in recent years, and thrives when afforded the freedom to express himself.
Given his noted effectiveness in the role, it would be unsurprising to see Grealish positioned on the left at City, at least initially, with Pep looking to experiment to find his best suited position in his squad to create synergy.
With his arrival at City now made official, Grealish will work under the guidance of Guardiola – a manager credited with honing the talents of the likes of legends of the game like Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva, and the £100 million star should conceivably see his game improve immeasurably under the Catalan and may even be propelled close to the heights of these players mentioned.
He is a player who can take a game by the scruff of its neck and change it instantly, with his ability to unlock tight defence and find passes that others may not see. Add to that his dribbling ability and passing accuracy, he can create chances and goals out of nothing situations. He is a spark that can win you a game that looks like it’s headed for a stalemate.
With Ruben Diaz in the form of his life, and City adding to their talents upfront as well, City should once again be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming season. Could they possibly win the league? You wouldn’t bet against them doing the double
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