Jack Grealish needs Man City breakout display in Aston Villa return

Jack Grealish sat down this week and was asked to recap his start to life at Manchester City. He said in one word ‘difficult’. He can say that again.

It has been this week in particular as he is lining up for his first return to Aston Villa tonight since leaving his youth club for £100million in the summer.

There was a sense of inevitability then when Grealish went from the lead character in Villa to one of a large supporting cast in City, it would look and feel different.

He is front and back page news. His calves even have their own calendar.

But in almost every category on the field where he should be judged, his output has dropped dramatically; he makes fewer mistakes per 90 minutes, takes fewer shots, completes fewer dribbles, creates fewer chances, and his goals average is half what it was in his last season on 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 into his game.

Jack Grealish is candid about his ‘difficult’ adjustment since joining Man City for £100m

Playing for Pep Guardiola isn't easy, but Grealish wasn't the player he was at Aston Villa

Playing for Pep Guardiola isn’t easy, but Grealish wasn’t the player he was at Aston Villa

“I found it much harder than I thought I would, adapting to a different manager and team-mates,” Grealish told the BBC. Telegraph.

“At first I thought I would have more ball, get more assists and goals, but it doesn’t work like that at all. I haven’t had nearly as much of the ball as with Villa.

“I wouldn’t say I had a hard time, but I found it hard to get used to at first. I haven’t had the assists and goals I got last season, but I never doubt myself.’

For the Villa fans who were outraged by 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 hasn’t turned out greener so far in East Manchester.

Injuries hampered his last season at Villa, but he still finished the season with 12 assists and six goals. Every time he stepped aside, they seemed to run out of ideas.

He joins City for £100m and is scrutinized every week for his displays

He joins City for £100m and is scrutinized every week for his displays

He's fallen in almost every 90-minute average since his last season with Aston Villa

He’s fallen in almost every 90-minute average since his last season with Aston Villa

COMPARISON OF JACK GREALISH AT MAN CITY AND ASTON VILLA
Premier League – Jack Grealish 2021/2022 2020/2021
Team Manchester City Aston Villa
Games played 9 26
to suit 367 996
Pass per game 40.8 38.3
Violations won 22 110
Violations won per match 2.4 4.2
Dribbles Complete 16 65
Dribbles completed per game 1.8 2.5
Opportunities created 26 81
Chances created per game 2.9 3.1
Shots (incl. blocks) 16 50
Shots (incl. blocks) per game 1.8 1.9
goals 1 6
assists 2 10
Target Engagement 3 16
Target engagement per match 0.3 0.6

But at City, he is not the sun around which the earth revolves. He’s one of many complementary pieces who are relentlessly coached to play football the way Guardiola wants it to be played – and the Catalan has no appetite for giving his big-money signature a free pass.

“I don’t think, ‘The best Jack Grealish we’re going to see is next season.’ I want to see it this season,” Guardiola said recently, putting down the gauntlet.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that his move to City was a mistake, but there’s no denying that Grealish doesn’t look like the player who, with the ball at his feet, could produce a magical moment in the blink of an eye.

That’s one of the problems, he has less ball. City are more of a three-, four-, five-headed monster, while stopping Grealish at Villa went a long way in limiting the danger.

What he does more is pass and that comes as no surprise to anyone when Guardiola, someone so hungry for possessions, is his coach.

“Maybe at Villa everything started with him and he was free. Now he’s in a new position and maybe he wasn’t as determined or as clinical in the last third,” added Guardiola.

He was Dean Smith's go-to man at Villa, but at City he's part of a star-studded supporting cast

He was Dean Smith’s go-to man at Villa, but at City he’s part of a star-studded supporting cast

The Villa fan (right) has shown flashes at City but is still waiting for a breakout appearance

The Villa fan (right) has shown flashes at City but is still waiting for a breakout appearance

“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. If they get the ball close to the penalty area, you decide what you want. That’s why you are Jack Grealish and no other player. They have to play and make their moments.’

While it’s not something he can control, its £100 million price tag entails tremendous pressure and scrutiny. It is a fee that requires immediate results or questions. So far, Grealish has not lived up to the expectations placed on him.

One goal in nine Premier League starts barely sets the world on fire.

But what Grealish should be looking at is that he is one of a production line of talent who 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 got off to a disappointing start when they arrived.

Take Raheem Sterling, in a similar form to Grealish, as they are often deployed on the left side of the attack.

Sterling scored seven goals in his first season under Guardiola, but was transformed for the second time when he scored 18 goals the following season.

Guardiola (right) thinks Grealish (left) is hard on himself and those displays were good

Guardiola (right) thinks Grealish (left) is hard on himself and those displays were good

He scored on his Champions League debut against RB Leipzig but needs more big moments

He scored on his Champions League debut against RB Leipzig but needs more big moments

“This often happens during Pep Guardiola’s time at Manchester City, when you see a player come in in those first six months and you think, ‘I’m not sure if they fit, I’m not sure if they’re at the level that City are in. past,” Gary Neville said recently. “And then they tend to just grow and grow and get better.”

Guardiola added: “Here I demand that they play the best every game and after we have tried to analyze the reason why we were not playing at a good level, we are going to help you. So far, Jack Grealish has always played well in the games.”

Grealish has shown flash by scoring in his Champions League debut against RB Leipzig, which was accompanied by a party to his knees.

That won’t be the case if he plays a part and scores against Steven Gerrard’s Villa.

“I see nothing but a positive reaction, but once the game starts, he is the enemy and we want to face him,” said Gerrard.

“We want to make it as difficult as possible for him and his team.”

Back in familiar surroundings, Grealish sets out to find a breakout performance that could ignite his City career. He had many a famous night under the lights at Villa Park and now he needs one more to silence his doubters.

He returns to Villa and needs a display as Guardiola is unwilling to write off Grealish's season

He returns to Villa and needs a display as Guardiola is unwilling to write off Grealish’s season

Players like Riyad Mahrez (left) have vastly improved after their first season with Guardiola

Players like Riyad Mahrez (left) have vastly improved after their first season with Guardiola

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