Jack Grealish is back! £100-million star second only to Erling Haaland in influence at Man City this season

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Jack Grealish Manchester City 2022-23
The England winger has finally assimilated to Pep Guardiola's way of working and is thriving as a more intelligent, more committed player.

When Jack Grealish signed for Manchester City, there was genuine fascination at the idea that Pep Guardiola, the ultimate team coach, had signed someone many regarded as the ultimate individual.

Those who had their doubts about the unlikely marriage felt smug as Grealish cut a peripheral figure in his first season at the Etihad Stadium, starting little more than half the games and being benched for the biggest matches against Real Madrid, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid.

But now Grealish resembles a Guardiola protege, a complete footballer who perfectly understands his coach's style of play and who will put his body on the line for the team.

Grealish has had an excellent season, but his virtuoso performance in the 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool was his coronation. After the winger had helped put Jurgen Klopp's side to the sword, Guardiola gushed in pride at the transformation his player has made in his sophomore campaign at the Etihad.

“I think all this season he has been really well,” Guardiola said. “This is the Jack Grealish that Aston Villa fans know really well. He believes completely and the way he behaved in the beginning when he wasn’t playing was perfect."

  1. Masterminding Liverpool's downfall
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    Masterminding Liverpool's downfall

    Even before the Liverpool match, Grealish he was making a case as City's most influential player this season behind Erling Haaland.

    And as Haaland nursed his groin injury in the stands, it was Grealish who masterminded the demolition of last season's title rivals, and he was lauded by the City faithful when he was substituted just before the end.

    It was pretty much the perfect performance from Grealish. He ravaged Trent Alexander Arnold for 90 minutes while dovetailing superbly with Julian Alvarez, whom he set up for the equaliser, and Kevin De Bruyne, who he combined with to slot the stylish fourth goal.

    And every time he went forward he looked up and paused before making his move, ensuring he did not give the ball away as he often would in his first season.

  2. Doing the dirty work with pride
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    Doing the dirty work with pride

    And most impressively of all, he carried out his defensive dirty work with gusto, sprinting back from his own area to chase down Mohamed Salah and block a pass to Diogo Jota that almost would have certainly resulted in Liverpool taking a 2-0 lead.

    "The best player on the park was Jack Grealish, he is playing with confidence, a belief in his own ability. They just couldn't handle him at all," said Alan Shearer on BBC's Match of the Day.

    "When he had the ball he was as good as anything, he gave Trent a torrid time at full-back. Trent didn't know what day it was, he didn't know where to go, what to do, how to handle him.

    "You see his work rate, tracking back, a crunching tackle, absolutely magnificent. You're seeing a player who is happy with his game, content with what he's being asked to do in the team. He's one of the most important players at Man City at the moment."

  3. Revitalised after the World Cup

    Revitalised after the World Cup

    Grealish has really come into his own since the domestic season resumed after the World Cup.

    Before jetting off to Qatar with England, he had played eight of City's 14 Premier League matches, starting only six.

    He had just one goal to his name, against Wolves, and no assists. He looked low on confidence, having just seven shots in that time, with only two hitting the target.

    But he has been in sizzling form for his club since returning. He has played in all of City's last 14 matches, starting all-but two and playing almost double the amount of minutes as before the World Cup.

    He has scored three goals, against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal no less, and added five assists. He is far more confident in front of goal, taking 23 shots, hitting the target with eight of them.

  4. A tough adaptation period
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    A tough adaptation period

    There was understandably a lot of expectation when Grealish signed from boyhood club Aston Villa for City for a Premier League record of £100 million in the summer of 2021.

    Grealish had just come off the back of an impressive European Championship campaign for England, albeit without starting many games, and had joined a City side who had just reclaimed the title back from Liverpool.

    But bedding into Guardiola's machine-like side was far from easy, as Grealish himself admitted in January.

    "When I came here, I'll be honest with you, it was so much more difficult than I thought. In my head I thought I was going to the team sitting top of the league and I was going to get so many goals and assists and obviously it isn't the case," he told Sky Sports. "A lot of teams tend to sit in against us and that wasn't the case at Villa.”

    He added: “[Ex-Aston Villa manager] Dean Smith would tell me to go and find the weak link in the defence, whether that was on the right, the middle or whether I wanted to hug the touchline - and at Villa, I always had an overlapping full-back. I came into City, having been at Villa my whole life, and I've never had to change. I've always been used to that. I didn't realise how hard it is to adapt to a different team and manager.”

  5. Improvements off the ball

    Improvements off the ball

    Grealish may have found it hard to change, but it is to his credit that he has managed to adapt his game. He has made real strides off the ball, becoming a crucial cog in City's high-pressing system.

    In the visit to Leeds in December, he narrowed down Liam Cooper's angles and gobbled up the sloppy pass, dribbling towards goal and laying on a pass for Haaland to score. In the Champions League last-16 first leg at RB Leipzig in February, he cut out a pass from Xaver Schlager and helped set up Riyad Mahrez's goal in the eventual 1-1 draw.

    His goal-saving block on Salah was a very different type of intervention, but the fact he played it down shows how accustomed he has become to the other side of the game.

    “A few people have said to me now about running back, but it’s normal,” he said. “I think anyone would do it in the team. Obviously it was a big part in the game, because it could have been 2-0 and a few minutes later we go and score to make it 1-1, which was a big moment."

  6. A true Guardiola favourite

    A true Guardiola favourite

    Grealish has clearly learned a lot from Guardiola and is all the better player for it.

    “It’s part of learning the way the manager wants to play and it does take time. I feel like I’ve got that now,” he said after the Liverpool win. "There are times where the manager doesn’t want me to dribble all the time and keep the ball and play little short passes which I completely understand.

    "He was just very happy with me and for me. He said I deserved this. I’ve been working hard and hopefully I can carry on."

    His over-arching influence on the team is a far cry from the image many had of him last season, when his large role in City's title celebrations appeared to contrast with the supporting role had had played during the season.

    Now he is front and centre of City's act, and they are a far stronger side for it.