Is it harder for Man City to win when Grealish plays?

The more Manchester City play during the 2022/2023 season, the more it feels like the football world is getting closer to some much-needed answers about Jack Grealish’s role in the team. Namely, whether the attacking midfielder makes City better, with a particular focus on whether or not Grealish actually slows down the tempo of Pep Guardiola’s team.

Dortmund scare is avoided after Grealish is substituted

Against Borussia Dortmund recently, there was further evidence that proved Grealish was finding it hard to justify his selection in a team that has an embarrassment of riches. Indeed, the former Aston Villa captain was substituted shortly after Dortmund took the lead through Jude Bellingham at the hour mark.

Tellingly, however, City was able to complete an impressive comeback only twenty minutes later. Chiefly, this was down to the urgency that the substitutes of Bernardo Silva, Julian Alvarez, and Phil Foden gave City in the final third.

Essentially, City went from lethargic and predictable to swashbuckling and irrepressible after its usual verve was restored. Indeed, City’s famous overlapping runs were evident again as they swamped their German counterparts with a brand of football that has made this team one of the most exhilarating watches on the planet.

Grealish, though, was only able to take it in from the bench and as initially touched on, it did feel like one of those nights when a jarring conclusion was there to be made; City lacks the required urgency when the 27-year-old plays. Why is this the case though?

Square pegs in round holes

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Grealish prefers to be the architect of the goal instead of the willing runner who finds the space behind the defence. In this sense, the midfielder drops deeper in order for the ball to be played to his feet instead of making a lung-busting run to get on the end of a through ball, as say, Foden or Silva would.

Now, the problem with Grealish seeing himself as City’s creative source is that the playmaker role is typically reserved for Kevin De Bruyne who, more or less, has free rein to operate behind the attackers in an attempt to unlock the opposition’s defence. Crucially, more often than not, the Belgian maestro is able to do as much, which is why he is considered one of the greatest midfielders of his generation.

Yes, De Bruyne has the passing range and accuracy to justify his status as City’s visionary but above all, the midfielder has the mental and physical speed to see his ideas come to life. Grealish meanwhile, seemingly doesn’t possess the composing urgency needed to succeed De Brunyne in this role. In fact, it was Graeme Souness who probably said it best when he remarked that Grealish “doesn’t see the picture quickly enough.”

So, with this in mind, City can’t afford to play Grealish whilst De Bruyne is on the same pitch doing the job to a far more clinical degree. What happens, however, is that Grealish starts on the wing and tries to dictate play by stepping inside into traffic rather than working the channels where City have, historically, been so effective and dangerous. The question now has to be, how long this goes on before Guardiola cuts his losses?

Whilst that may sound extreme, the only other option would be to alter his revolutionary style of play, which would, undoubtedly, be a questionable compromise to make when it has brought so many trophies to the Etihad Stadium. Yes, you could argue that even with Grealish in the squad, City look destined to win the Premier League and that would of course be true. After all, the latest football betting on the outright winner of the league, as of the 16th of September, price City at odds of 1/3, making them the standout favourites. The reality, however, is that this may be down to having one of the most expensive squads in Europe rather than Grealish being an influential part of the current City setup.

How does Guardiola move Grealish on without losing face?

It’s worth pointing out that Guardiola has, up until now, been fiercely protective over Grealish’s role when the media has questioned the wisdom of breaking the bank to sign him.

In some respects, it’s easy to see how the Spaniard’s hands may be tied with regard to this question given that his reputation would equally suffer if he admitted that it wasn’t working out for Grealish at the club despite sanctioning the move for him. The inescapable truth still remains and that is, as things stand, the midfielder is making winning a lot harder for City when he is on the pitch.

Is it harder for Man City to win when Grealish plays?

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