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Jack Grealish can be further unlocked thanks to key Man City signing

This season, Jack Grealish is under pressure to get better, but is it really necessary?

How Jack Grealish could perform in his second season at Manchester City was one of the major discussion points going into the new season. The response appears to be fairly accurate based on the information so far.

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Grealish underwhelmed in major part during his debut season at the Etihad Stadium following his £100 million transfer from Aston Villa. By the end of the season, the 26-year-old was starting more games off the bench than he was in the starting lineup, and his goal totals were far lower than they had been for Villa.

Grealish only had three goals and three assists in 26 league games for City last year, compared to six and ten for his local team in the same amount of games in 2020/21. While it was obvious to everyone seeing that he was not the same direct, disruptive presence he was at Villa Park, his shot-creating activities per 90 minutes decreased by about one.

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That was in part because he needed some time to get used to Pep Guardiola’s procedures and expectations. It can take new hires at least a year to begin performing at their peak for City, as players like Rodri, Riyad Mahrez, and Bernardo Silva have demonstrated.

But more importantly, Guardiola asked Grealish to play a different role than he did at his former club, and he still does. It is a position that is equally vital but less obvious as one deserving of recognition.

Grealish used to cover a huge portion of the field for Villa, sliding deep to gather the ball before advancing down the left flank and left half-space. He was the team’s creative hub and the person to whom his teammates would typically look to pass the ball.

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At City, he is not as much of a center player as he is a left winger whose primary responsibility is to stay high and wide in order to hold the opposition’s right back at bay and free up space for the midfielders of the team to exploit the spaces between the centre-backs and full-backs.

Of course, saying that is all he does would be excessively simplistic. He is expected to run at his opponent and cross the goal line as a winger, or he can wait for players like Bernardo Silva or Joao Cancelo to make an overlapping run, or he can cut inside and pass to the other flank.

He might be more assertive and get things done for City, but that confidence and understanding of when to use it will develop through time. At Villa, he was given greater latitude to improvise, whereas at City, he must choose his moments carefully to return to the “old” Grealish.

His true potential should be released, and there are several methods for this to happen, as some supporters have demanded.

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Due to Cancelo and Grealish’s right-footedness, City’s left-flank can occasionally appear to be quite narrow—as it did, for example, against Liverpool in the Community Shield. Grealish would be able to cut inside or feed overlapping runs if he signed a left-back who plays on his natural side, adding additional unpredictability to his flank play.

If City are unable to find a natural left-back, Guardiola may instead think about using Grealish as a left-sided central midfielder, a position that would suit his ball-playing skills and allow Phil Foden to start on the left wing and add extra width.

It’s debatable if Grealish genuinely needs to be “unlocked.” Guardiola appears to be growing more pleased with the England international after a rocky first season at City.

“The second goal was a great action for Jack, the goal belongs to him,” Guardiola said of Erling Haaland’s second goal in the 2-0 victory over West Ham. “He retains the ball, pulled opponents, finds the ideal ball to Rodri, everything happens with space and then Kevin is tough to stop.”

Grealish’s contribution to the goal is exactly the kind of thing Guardiola wants to see from him, although supporters or outsiders are unlikely to notice. He can certainly improve his goal and assist totals, but as long as Grealish continues to do as his boss tells him to, City won’t give a damn what the rest of the world thinks.

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