In moment the 100 Million transfer of Jack Grealish from boyhood club Aston Villa to Manchester City definitely raised eyebrows. Months into the move and many fans still can’t wrap their head around why a non-prolific goal scorer was the subject to such a fee. The answer is much bigger than the individual talent Grealish possess but in how he ties tremendously into the club structure on and off the pitch;
To understand the Grealish transfer is to understand Pep Guardiola’s view on what he wants his wingers to do in his system has greatly changed. In the past, the wingers in City’s 4-3-3 were explosive outlets that turned interceptions won off the pressing system into blitz like bombing counters e.g. Sane or Sterling.
It was this all-out attack mentality that led to the centurion season but it was this same heavy offensive pressure philosophy that saw them crash out the UCL time after time. The quest for this elusive UCL caused Pep to reel in his offensive goal-scoring nature into a more control based side;
I want the ball for 90 minutes. When I don’t have the ball, I go high pressing because I want the ball – Pep Guardiola
The fundamentals, what I want, which is to take the ball, try to play as offensive as possible and dominate the game through the ball, is the same. I grew up with that; I was a player with that idea, and I am a coach with that idea – Pep Guardiola
It doesn’t take long to notice Grealish is not a blitz winger like the other two but early on into his City tenure Jack Grealish has become one of the League’s most prolific passing forward, he is a great combination of volume passing with efficiency. This trait makes him such a valuable piece in this new Manchester City side who value control so much. Grealish simple passes to another teammate will never be highlight-reel worthy but it allows City to ball circulate around their whole team and slowly break a team down. This is a stark contrast to Pep’s blitz days where his system was similar to Liverpool’s gegenpress heavy metal football and they looked to score as much and as quickly as possible. Yet if you look at Liverpool you’ll see a team that concedes bad goals due to their all-out attack nature. Pep and Manchester City are looking to move past being such a team.
The wing combinations these days from Pep often centre around Jesus, Sterling, Foden, Grealish and Mahrez. A quick look reveals only one true blitz winger while the rest are slower but better with the ball at their feet players. The counter has lost some of its venom as a result of this change but it allows City to be more in control. The forwards’ interchange all the time, short quick passes are common and everyone has a role to play in breaking down the defence.
Jack Grealish is a justified buy as he fits the system. The price for a system fit doesn’t matter(imagine rolling out Joe Hart because Ederson was too expensive). Fans are yet to move past the Centurion – knife to throat days, I can’t blame them I fully haven’t moved on myself but these days City are less a knife to the throat and more a long strangle of the opposition. It sounds absurd to say but City’s past wingers were too direct and it compromised control especially in UCL games where the opposition’s quality on the counter only gets better the deeper you go into the tournament. The transfer of Grealish fits who City are as a team now and going forward in their relentless march towards that elusive UCL.