Jack Grealish has struggled for goal involvements since his record £100 million move to Manchester City last summer.
When Grealish moved to City in August of last year, expectations were high. Arriving with that club record price tag, it didn’t take long for jibes from rival fans and pundits to surface. After all, £100 million is a significant amount of money for a player and as many suggested, demands a significant return on the pitch.
Fast forward to now, nine months into Grealish’s City career. The English international has been adjudged to have been underwhelming so far, with a poor return of just goals in appearances in all competitions since moving to Manchester from Aston Villa.
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Despite the somewhat disappointing short-changed return, the playmaker has shown flickers of his electrifying talent throughout the season. A brilliant goal and assist on his Champions League debut for him lives long in his memory, as well as playing a key team role in the savage 7-0 dismantling of Leeds United in December, bagging the second goal in that rout.
Yet it is no secret that Grealish has been quieter since the turn of the year. Whether it may be a lack of confidence or quite simply too much rotation in the team preventing him from gaining a regular run of games, Grealish’s initial flair has faded.
We were reminded however of just how much quality the Birmingham-born star possesses, though, in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley this past weekend. After City found themselves 3-0 down to Liverpool at half time, ‘Super Jack’ took his shot early in the second half, powering in a brilliant drive to reduce City’s arrears.
This wasn’t a flash in the pan for the 26-year-old in the match either, with Grealish’s overall play being remarkable and admirable given the adverse situation City found themselves in. His expertly measured through-ball in the 70th minute sent Gabriel Jesus one on one with Liverpool keeper Alisson, only to see his weak effort saved.
Grealish’s performance against Liverpool serves as an active reminder of his talent, but why was it shown in that game of all games? Other than being able to point to the Englishman’s admirable drive, as he kept his head up despite the shambolic first half City display, his positioning of him played a part too.
Both with his well taken goal and the fantastic pass to Jesus, Grealish was far more central than his usual left wing spot for the Premier League champions. This should not come as a surprise to fans that the talented playmaker should perform when in the creative center. He’s got a cracking track record as a No.10 and playing there more often may be crucial to unlocking his true potential from him.
Although successful on the left for Villa last season, Grealish produced some of his best form for them when he was regularly playing in advanced central midfield. In the promotion-winning side of 2018/19, Grealish made 31 appearances in the center of midfield and just three on the left. This yielded one of his best seasons ever, as he captained Villa to Premier League promotion, contributing six goals and eight assists in the process.
In City’s current team, Grealish has to compete with his fellow compatriots Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden for the left wing position, which has only contributed to his struggles for game time. It is well known to the City faithful just how much of a masterstroke it was by manager Pep Guardiola to move Phil Foden into the left wing position last season.
Foden has been a regular presence there again this term and has enjoyed plenty of success. Maybe the reverse of this manoeuvre for Grealish could help Guardiola get the best from him. With Grealish in midfield and Foden on the wing, the England internationals can finally link up to the full and unlock a new level of quality for Guardiola’s side. Grealish’s passing is top tier and, given his lacking confidence in front of goal, a more creative role would suit his current form and playstyle.
To further support this, Grealish’s close relationship and strong admiration for creative teammate Kevin De Bruyne has to be considered. Upon joining City, the England playmaker went on record on several occasions highlighting his appreciation for City’s Belgian star. Grealish labeled De Bruyne as his favorite player in the world. So playing right next to him in a central position should suit both men.
With a solid defensive rock behind them in Rodri and potent attackers in front of them such as Foden and Riyad Mahrez — not to mention the (potentially) incoming goal machine Erling Haaland — a midfield duo of Grealish and De Bruyne is mouth-watering to say the least. It would also provide much needed rotation to keep Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva fit and firing.
Many of Guardiola’s signings have been second season bloomers after enduring tough first campaigns for City. It is undoubtedly hard to come into a team of already established stars and make your own individual mark on it. Onlookers should give Grealish the benefit of the doubt for now, but a positional switch could be just the remedy.