Grealish playing like Almiron of October heading into Etihad reunion

By Sports Desk March 03, 2023

Jack Grealish could not have imagined he was setting himself up for a fall when he picked on Newcastle United flop Miguel Almiron while celebrating his first Premier League title triumph.

On an individual level, Grealish's debut season at Manchester City had not been a roaring success.

But his six goal involvements in the Premier League dwarfed Almiron's one, giving Grealish the confidence to talk down the Newcastle winger the day after City's dramatic 3-2 title-clinching win against former club Aston Villa.

Misfiring City team-mate Riyad Mahrez needed to be substituted "as soon as possible" in that match, a drunken Grealish said, because he had "played like Almiron".

For his part, Almiron brushed off the barb and wished Grealish well.

Meanwhile, the horrified City winger, having sobered up, sought to apologise to the Paraguay international and acknowledged he deserved "a lot of stick off the Newcastle fans".

Grealish was at least spared slightly in that regard as a minor injury kept him out in August when City visited St James' Park for a match in which Almiron scored his first of 10 goals this season.

Almiron then netted six in October alone, when it seemed he could do no wrong. Only once in his Premier League career has Grealish tallied more than six across an entire season.

But heading into Saturday's reverse fixture between City and Newcastle in Manchester, Grealish is the form man, playing his best football under Pep Guardiola.

Since the World Cup, a period in which fellow left-sided attacker Phil Foden has struggled for fitness, Grealish has two goals and four assists in the league. Including cup competitions, he has a further two assists on top.

Those eight goal involvements in 16 matches (one every 134 minutes) compare to 11 in 55 (one every 343 mins) over the first 16 months of Grealish's City career.

However, his is an upturn that can be explained no more easily than Almiron's.

Following the World Cup, looking at slightly more granular per-90 metrics, Grealish has actually seen a decline in chances created, passes into the box, touches and touches in the box. A very slight boost in expected assists does not account for those improved assist numbers.

Yet as long as Grealish continues to deliver in big games, supplying goals against Manchester United and Arsenal and assists against Chelsea and Arsenal, Guardiola is unlikely to mind.

City at least have alternative options if this run proves unsustainable. They head into Saturday's latest sizeable match on a high – in complete contrast with a stuttering Newcastle and their leading marksman regressing to the mean.

Almiron outperformed his xG by 3.3 across that inexplicable October but has otherwise almost exactly matched his expected figure over the rest of the season.

Worse still for Newcastle, Almiron's team-mates have failed to even do that since the World Cup.

In all competitions, only four Premier League teams have scored fewer goals per game than Newcastle (0.9) over that period, yet the Magpies rank fifth for xG per game (1.8).

Eddie Howe's side should have scored roughly twice as many goals as they have, underperforming their total xG of 25.6 by 12.6. Chelsea's underperformance of 9.4 is next-worst, followed by a distant 6.3 from Everton.

While Newcastle have won only five of 14 matches since the restart, they have come out on top on xG in 11 of those.

Almiron is not the problem, it appears, but another run like that of earlier in the season might be required to set Newcastle back on track.

Instead, confidence is again on Grealish's side, with the England man primed to this time do his talking on the pitch after last May's title party mishap.

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