THE NUMBERS GAME: Jack Grealish has scored just once in the league since his £100m move and has lacked penetration in the final third… but after destroying Liverpool with Villa last year, can he do the same again with City today?
- Manchester City will hope Jack Grealish can repeat his heroics against Liverpool
- He became the first player to be involved in five goals in Villa’s 7-2 romp last year
- Since his big move to City, his penetration and dribbling stats have taken a hit
- The midfielder was also much more effective with his shooting last season
It was the game that earned Jack Grealish a ticket to the big time. It’s not every day a team like Aston Villa puts seven past a team like Liverpool, and their club captain was integral to that memorable 7-2 romp last season.
Grealish will have perked up the heads of every major club in the Premier League after being involved in five of those goals – the first time any player has achieved such a feat against the Reds.
In a mesmerising display, he notched two goals and three assists to stun the Premier League champions and leave Aston Villa sweating over the future of their in-demand playmaker – it was clear this midfielder was destined for super-stardom.
Jack Grealish can be the man to hurt Liverpool ahead of Man City’s trip to Anfield on Sunday
The midfielder ran riot against the Reds in Aston Villa’s famous 7-2 romp last season
Now at Man City and set to face Liverpool again on Sunday, Guardiola will have everything crossed that Grealish can repeat his heroics from that day at Villa Park, especially after what followed.
Grealish would go on to enjoy his best ever season in an Aston Villa shirt that year – netting six times while also laying on ten assists, a campaign that saw him land a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020 and then seal a £100m move to the Etihad.
Settling into a top side with a hefty price tag is no easy assignment, and it will of course take Grealish time to find his best form at the Etihad. So while he has shown glimpses of his undoubted quality, it’s no surprise his output has taken a hit on his dazzling start to last season.
In Grealish’s first six games of the 2020-21, he was oozing class and managed four goals and four assists as he also masterminded wins over Sheffield United, Fulham and Leicester City.
But since his £100m move to City, Grealish has struggled to find his best form at the Etihad
He has just one goal and one assist and his dribbling and shooting numbers are down from the first six games of the last campaign
This season – having played almost the same amount of minutes – he has just one goal and a lone assist, opening his scoring account for his new team in the 5-0 thrashing of Norwich. He clearly hasn’t had many problems convincing new boss Pep Guardiola that he’s first team quality after starting all six games, but playing for City is an entirely different equation.
The main issue for Grealish appears to be replicating the same penetration and cutting edge he had while acting as the talisman at Villa.
This season he’s playing in a system and a team where his side are expected to be on the front foot, have most of the ball and dominate games. Sometimes he won’t have the same amount of space to run in behind as he usually does and it will take time to adjust.
He has less shots than this time last season, with 11 compared to 17 at Villa – with a better shooting accuracy of 45 per cent but a much lower shot conversion rate of just 9.09 per cent. That compares to 23.53 per cent from last season.
Where Grealish will really want to make a step up is his passes into the final third and playing the killer pass.
He has played just 23 balls into the box, including crosses, while that number was at 35 with Aston Villa. The midfielder has also attempted far less of the dribbles (20) he has been renowned for, and completed fewer too (11).
While he is creating slightly more chances (18) than last season, he has only carved out one opportunity deemed a ‘big chance’. After six games in the last campaign, he had created five.
Grealish is playing fewer passes into the box and creating less big chances for his team-mates
He cut a frustrated figure in City’s 2-0 loss to PSG, which highlighted the work he needs to do
One positive from the stats comparison is that Grealish is having a much better success with his passing – racking an accuracy of 89 per cent compared to 79 per cent last season – as he enjoys being part of Guardiola’s possession machine.
But Grealish’s performance in City’s 2-0 defeat to PSG perhaps gave a reminder of the work he must put in to truly reach the top level after cutting a frustrated figure at the Parc de Princes.
He was given a tough time against right back Achraf Hakimi, who mocked the England star by posting a picture of him flattened while the Moroccan surged past him with the ball after a tackle.
It’s only natural that there will be big expectations for a player who arrives with such a big price tag, but his team-mate Riyad Mahrez believes he is settling into life at the Etihad just fine.
‘Yeah, sure he’s fitting in well. He’s adapted to the way we play. I think the coach and the team are really helping him,’ he told L’Equipe.
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‘He’s playing in a lot of games, of course, which makes it easier to fit in. When I arrived, I didn’t play in all the games straight away.’
Guardiola warned that City ‘didn’t sign Grealish for one game, we signed him for five years’, after some members of the press questioned his minimal impact on his debut in the Community Shield.
The Spaniard will hope it doesn’t take quite that long for Grealish to hit the mark – but on Sunday he will come up against an opponent that will still be having nightmares after facing him just 12 months ago.
He was lively and full of energy to pounce on a error-strewn Liverpool display, bursting forwards with the ball and clipping balls over the top to Ollie Watkins. Always with his head up and playing quick passes, Jurgen Klopp’s men simply couldn’t handle him as he caused havoc down the left with two strikes.
Granted, it will be a different story with City – who will play a different style completely – but if Guardiola can get the best out of his marquee signing down the flank then he knows he has the ability to be the difference once again.
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