December 3, 2021, 21:43

Jack Grealish signs for Manchester City for record £100m fee from Aston Villa

Jack Grealish signs for Manchester City for record £100m fee from Aston Villa

Manchester City have smashed the British transfer record by signing Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for £100m – but where will the silky-skilled forward fit at City?

Man City outscored every other team in the Premier League last season and have now bolstered their ranks further by signing the versatile 25-year-old forward, meaning Pep Guardiola now has nine key attackers to rotate in his squad.

Grealish joins Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Ferran Torres among his midfield and forward options, with five starting berths typically up for grabs.

So who would start among the embarrassment of riches or will Guardiola rely on rotation to appease his stars?

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Who plays where?

The arrival of Grealish has placed greater pressure on Sterling and Foden for a starting berth, with all three players preferring the wide-left channel, while Gundogan typically plays deeper on the left of a three-man midfield.

However, Sterling can also cover up top and with Sergio Aguero’s departure – and with any deal for Harry Kane uncertain – City could well deploy false No 9s, with Gabriel Jesus and Sterling prime candidates.

Meanwhile, Grealish can be used in a No 10 role, as can De Bruyne – so there could be room to accommodate all nine attacking players with positional fluidity and rotation to help navigate multiple competitions.

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So where could Grealish fit in?

Grealish was deployed on the left of Aston Villa’s front three throughout last season – operating in much the same position favoured by Sterling. With Foden also spending time out on the left it would be no surprise to see Grealish used deeper at City.

Image:
Kevin De Bruyne did not feature in Man City's most-used XI last season due to missing a third of the season through injury

Those inside positions – what became known as Guardiola’s ‘twin eights’ – would seem a good fit for a player happy to take his time on the ball, dragging opponents out of position and waiting for the opening. There will be a lot of that against packed defences at City.

It is a zone in which Gundogan enjoyed plenty of success last season and Grealish could no doubt learn from the German’s off-the-ball movement. Gundogan is versatile enough to feature in three other positions himself so perhaps Grealish could displace him there.

It is easy to envisage Grealish and De Bruyne in those advanced midfield positions against weaker opposition as City pile players forward. But do not rule out De Bruyne being used as a false nine as part of the front three with Grealish taking on creative responsibility.

Ultimately, rotation is going to be a feature given the talent available and Grealish can expect to take on a number of different roles in this City side. Is he in the first XI? As the Champions League final showed, it is a moot point. Nobody can second guess Guardiola.

How will Grealish improve City?

Advanced data metrics confirm what is clear to the naked eye: City play the highest defensive line, progress farthest upfield with passing sequences, lead the way for build-up attacks and edge even Liverpool for winning high turnovers.

Indeed, a high line compresses the opposition into a tighter area, which inevitably demands players to work in tighter spaces and evade the press. Who is better at doing this than Grealish?

The graphic below plots every instance where opponents applied pressure on Grealish from behind last season and the outcome, revealing how the burgeoning talent almost always evaded challenges and produced a successful outcome.

But Grealish also excels at the gritty side of the game: winning duels across the pitch and recovering possession in the final third – ranking sixth and ninth per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season, respectively.

Knack to be hacked

The ‘fouls won’ statistic appears to have risen to prominence in tandem with Grealish and there is little surprise – his close control drew a league-high 110 fouls last term, 22 more than any other player – a staggering statistic when you consider he missed a third of the season through injury.

Guardiola would be aware he possesses one of the league’s finest free-kick takers in Kevin De Bruyne – who would thrive from a spike in set-piece deliveries. Even when Grealish is not fouled, his talents demand close attention and, in a team like Manchester City, that allows any one of a host of fellow superstars to step into pockets of space.

Top two creators now at City

Grealish also belongs to an elite class for creating goals: only De Bruyne registered a superior ratio for assists per 90 minutes last season.

Yes, if City sign Grealish they would have the league’s top two creators in their ranks – a potent statement of intent for their title defence.

The table below reveals the quality of his end product: only Adama Traore was comparable for creating chances after travelling with the ball at his feet last season.

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A new British record

The British transfer fee has soared during the Premier League era since Manchester United paved the way by signing Andy Cole from Newcastle for £7m in 1995. Dennis Bergkamp and Stan Collymore edged that fee higher that same year before Newcastle splashed £15m on Alan Shearer in 1996.

That fee stood for five years until Manchester United signed Juan Sebastian Veron for £28.1m and surpassed that outlay the following year by signing Rio Ferdinand from Leeds for £29.1m.

The record crept higher after the arrivals of Andriy Shevchenko and Robinho over the following years, but the exponential leap occurred in 2016 when Manchester United shelled out £93.25m on Paul Pogba – a record that stood for five years.

City have set a new benchmark with their £100m acquisition of Grealish and could still send that figure to new highs if the club is successful in their pursuit of Harry Kane. Meanwhile, Chelsea are also in negotiations to resign Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for around £100m.

Image:
Jack Grealish has become the most expensive British player in history after completing his £100m move to Manchester City

Grealish’s X-factor and his special appeal

Sky Sports’ Peter Smith:

Aston Villa supporters have been hailing him for years, celebrating a special talent which had emerged from their youth ranks. It took some time for supporters of other clubs to get on board but Grealish and his X-factor has won over all the judges now. At Euro 2020, the sound of England supporters cheering his warm-ups and chanting his name, urging Gareth Southgate to throw him into the action, was the perfect illustration of that.

He appeared for just 137 minutes at that tournament but he was a major story throughout. His two assists and cameos off the bench were a tantalising glimpse of what England had in the locker and drove the conversation about how they should attack.

It is that enticing, exciting game-changing potential which makes him such hot property.

Image:
Jack Grealish celebrates after England vs Germany

Inside Wembley this summer, the change in approach from opposition defenders when he came into the game was clear to see. They dropped deeper. They doubled up. They looked nervous and wary of what might come next. It’s a growing trend we’ve seen in the Premier League and Grealish’s skill and reputation have now earned international respect, too.

That tantalising possibility of what Grealish could do at the top end of the Premier League or in the Champions League is clearly a question being pondered at Manchester City. The great Guardiola attracted by the potential of greatness from Grealish.

It’s a pivotal moment in his career and, just like during the Euros, there is real intrigue with what happens next.

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