Soccer

What does Aston Villa’s $140 million Jack Grealish bring to Manchester City?

Jack Grealish is putting the finishing touches to his move from Aston Villa to Manchester City for a record $140 million and the England star will sign a five-year contract at Etihad Stadium later this week.

Although the Birmingham outfit offered him improved terms to stay at Villa Park for at least another season with Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey now signed, the 25-year-old has opted to continue his career with Pep Guardiola’s men.

City are Premier League champions and reached last season’s UEFA Champions League final as the Villans look to build on a mid-table finish after avoiding relegation upon their return to the English top-flight with a return to the European scene.

Grealish could not wait any longer for his boyhood club to reach that level and will get his first taste of continental competition in Manchester with the Citizens keen to go one better than last campaign’s loss to Chelsea in Porto.

So, what are City getting with Grealish and is he worth that astronomical fee?

1. Ball carrier

First and foremost, Grealish is a top-quality carrier of the ball into attacking positions and his tally of 81 chances created after executing a carry over the past two Premier League seasons reflects that. Not only is that tally a competition-best in the EPL, but it is also the highest number across all of Europe’s top five leagues and is the sort of quality that will have aroused Guardiola’s interest. The ability to pry a defense open with the ball at your feet before playing a teammate in for a goal scoring chance is exactly what a team frequently facing packed defenses needs.

More broadly, according to Opta, since the start of the 2019-20 Premier League campaign, Grealish has either gone for goal himself or laid on an opportunity for a teammate 134 times. That, again, is more than any other player in the league with three of the other four best-ranked players in the top five already play for City.

A combined total of 30 Premier League goals and assists over the past two terms and half of those have come directly after he has carried the ball.

2. Attacking threat

Grealish is not only a threat when in motion with the ball at his feet, he has also been involved in 376 moves from open play which is the best number from a Villa player over the past two seasons.

In 2020-21, despite barely featuring from February onwards due to injury, Grealish averaged a role in 6.8 attacking moves every 90 minutes with only Ollie Watkins involved in a higher overall total with 175 to 165.

Grealish was also the main protagonist in attacking areas with 71 separate involvements as the player creating the actual chance.

3. Foul magnet

With Grealish spending so much time with the ball at his feet, he is naturally a target for opponents and often rough treatment to kick him out of the game.

He boasts 277 fouls won in the Premier League over the last two campaigns, which not only makes him the league leader, but that is 39 more than any other player across the top five European leagues in that period with 43 being punishable by cards — another EPL-high figure in that time.

All of which is to say Grealish gets the ball at his feet and good things happen.

4. Role changes

With Grealish coming aboard, Kevin De Bruyne could revert from his recent floating role to more of a right-sided berth which saw him excel in 2019-20 with 13 Premier League goals and 20 assists and his best expected assists per 90 of 0.47 and average of 3.5 open play chances per 90.

Assuming Grealish earns a starting role at Etihad Stadium, it is likely to be on the left side of central midfield and that will put him into competition with Ilkay Gundogan. The Germany international played his part in 21 goals across all competitions in 2020-21 with 17 goals and four assists, but the Villa man could be considered the more consistent attacking threat. There is also a chance that Grealish could play wide on the left where he spent a lot of time with Villa, but that is a spot that Phil Foden has increasingly made his own.

With Grealish potentially joining not only Foden, De Bruyne and Gundogan, but also the likes of Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva (if he stays), and Gabriel Jesus in attack (to say nothing of the prospect of Tottenham’s Harry Kane joining), there will certainly be selection headaches ahead for manager Guardiola. However, the sort of headaches that any boss would welcome.

5. Enjoyment

There are also the intangibles which many people have fallen in love with over the past few years, particularly since he made his senior England debut, and the sheer joy that he brings soccer fans is an increasingly rare quality.

Although part of that appeal was his one-club man status with Villa, the fact that many people would pay the price of a ticket alone to see England’s latest darling potentially line up alongside the likes of De Bruyne, Foden, Mahrez, Sterling, and Gundogan, will not be lost on City as they welcome fans back to a full capacity Etihad.



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