EPL

Guardiola hails Grealish's 'perfect start' ahead of possible Villa reunion

By Sports Desk November 30, 2021

Pep Guardiola praised Jack Grealish for "starting perfectly" at Manchester City but is unsure if the playmaker will be fit to feature against former club Aston Villa on Wednesday,

Grealish has featured in 15 of City's 21 matches since joining the club from Villa in a £100m British record transfer from Aston Villa in August, starting 13 of those.

The 26-year-old was an unused substitute for the derby win over Manchester United on November 6 and has not played since due to a knock sustained on England duty.

He returned to training on Monday and will be monitored ahead of Wednesday's clash at Villa Park, where he spent 20 years – seven as a first-team regular – prior to joining City.

Grealish has a lot of work to do in order to repay his hefty price tag, but Guardiola has been pleased with the attacking midfielder's impact thus far when fit and available.

"He has started perfectly," Guardiola said of Grealish at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. 

"It's easy because of our English players and the other guys here are nice people. He's played good but needs more time to settle." 

Grealish has scored two goals and assisted three more this term, while his tally of seven big chances created is the joint-most of any City player alongside Joao Cancelo.

However, the 3.15 chances Grealish has created per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season is down on the 3.34 managed in his final campaign with Villa.

He is also attempting fewer dribbles (3.39 compared to 4.53) for City and is being fouled less frequently (down from 4.53 to 2.66), a sign that he is getting at opponents less.

Guardiola puts down that down to the contrasting styles of City and next opponents Villa.

"If you analyse games, he hasn't played badly. The way we play and our expectations are different to Villa," Guardiola said.

"He did incredibly well at Villa. His commitment to the club to stay and get promoted was amazing. 

"Now he has come back from the international break injured. Hopefully he comes back and step by step finds his form. 

"We have six, seven months ahead of us. I don't think we will have to wait until next season to see the best Jack Grealish – I'm thinking this season."

Providing an update on City's other recent absentees, Guardiola confirmed Kevin De Bruyne has returned a negative coronavirus test but has yet to train.

Phil Foden remains doubtful having trained only once, while Ferran Torres is a long-term absentee and Aymeric Laporte is suspended.

"All the people who have had coronavirus say it drains them and Kevin needs time to show his form," Guardiola said. 

"Phil and Jack are still in the same situation. Maybe tomorrow they can play but not a lot of minutes – we're going to see after they train today.

"The rest, we have just 14 or 15 players. But I trust this squad a lot. If one is out, another comes in.

"December is the toughest month of the year for us and we are in trouble because we have so few players available."

Wednesday's match at Villa Park will be the first managerial encounter between Guardiola and new Villa boss Steven Gerrard.

Guardiola has lost just three of his 64 Premier League games against English managers, coming against Roy Hodgson (December 2018), Frank Lampard (June 2020) and Graham Potter (May 2021).

Gerrard has won his first two Villa games since arriving from Rangers – no manager in the club's history has won their first three matches – and Guardiola is expecting a tough test in the Midlands.

"He's managing in the Premier League, so he is already a good manager," Guardiola said. "I don't believe there's a manager in the Premier League, even the Championship, who isn't good. 

"They can train good players in good clubs to punch for the titles. There are incredible managers in all aspects and maybe they win titles because they are lucky to train a good team.

"I can imagine with a new manager everybody steps forward for training sessions and methodology to convince the manager. 

"They have had two good results against tough teams like Brighton and Crystal Palace. It will be the toughest game possible tomorrow."

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