Eddie Howe does not believe Jack Grealish's criticism of Miguel Almiron in Manchester City's title celebrations contributed to the Newcastle United winger's remarkable upturn in form.

In a clip that went viral, Grealish said in the aftermath of City's dramatic Premier League triumph he had welcomed the substitution of Riyad Mahrez against Aston Villa on the final day as his team-mate "played like Almiron".

It was a harsh jibe but one that spoke to Almiron's frustratingly ineffectual performances in a Newcastle shirt.

The former Atlanta United star too often lacked an end product prior to the start of this season.

But Almiron has spectacularly turned his Newcastle career around in 2022-23, scoring seven goals from chances worth just 4.2 expected goals (xG).

After netting his first of the campaign against Grealish's City in August, Almiron hit six in six in October – several of his strikes of stunning quality as Newcastle ended the month unbeaten.

Many have pondered whether there is a direct correlation between Grealish's criticism and Almiron's improved performances, although Callum Wilson this week said his team-mate "just shrugged his shoulders" at the incident.

Newcastle coach Howe was asked about the comments on Friday, and replied: "I've never discussed it with Miggy, because I don't see it being relevant at all.

"He's never discussed it with me. Personally, I don't think it would have any part in his thinking.

"I think Miggy's motivations are much bigger than that and greater than that.

"Any comment that anyone in the world would make – whether it's about me or someone else – I think you have to have a bigger picture.

"And the bigger picture for Miggy is being the best he can be for Newcastle. He loves the club, the supporters love him, he loves the supporters back.

"I think his motivations are greater than any comment from any individual. He's proud to play for his country, as well, so he's got huge positive things in his life that have driven him more than that."

Almiron initially thrilled after joining Newcastle in January 2019 but failed to score his first goal before the end of the season, belatedly ending that wait in December of the same year.

Until this term, he had never tallied more than four goals in a single Premier League campaign, underperforming his xG in three of four seasons.

It was expected then that Newcastle would seek to replace Almiron in the transfer window, but they instead focused their attentions elsewhere, buying goalkeeper Nick Pope, centre-back Sven Botman, left-back Matt Targett and striker Alexander Isak.

"I think the key thing is not to listen to outside speculation," Howe said. "For me, the targets we had in the summer were clear; we recruited in those positions.

"I've always said: if there's an area that we feel or players that we feel can improve the squad, we'll always look at that, regardless of who we have internally. That will never change."

He added: "Certainly the players that are here and have done well for us will be respected."

More recently, comments coming out of City in Newcastle's direction have been more positive, with Grealish's manager Pep Guardiola describing Howe's fourth-placed side as "contenders".

"I'd much rather people said nice things about us than not, but I'm not in control of that and it doesn't really change anything," Howe said.

"It's nice to hear people's opinions of us if they're positive, and if they're not, that's up to them.

"It doesn't change anything about what we're doing; only we can prove whether we're contenders or not. We have to do that on a weekly basis."

Jack Grealish is staggered by the scoring prowess of Manchester City team-mate Erling Haaland after the Norwegian added two more goals to his rapidly rising season total.

Haaland's first-half brace started City on their way to a 5-0 thrashing of Copenhagen in the Champions League at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, with a Davit Khocholava own goal, a Riyad Mahrez penalty and a tap-in from Julian Alvarez completing the rout.

It takes the former Borussia Dortmund striker to 19 goals from 12 games in all competitions for City this season, and Grealish lavished praise on the "humble" 22-year-old.

"It's unbelievable," Grealish said of Haaland in a post-match interview with BT Sport. "I've never witnessed anything like it in my life.

"He's just always there, he's always finishing it and it's a pleasure to play with him at the minute.

"When I was walking back after one of the goals… their keeper said something to me. I was like 'What?', and he was just like 'He's not human'... I was like 'Bro I know, you're telling me'.

"He's unbelievable, a pleasure to play with, he's so humble and great around the place and I'm not just bigging him up, that's the God's honest truth.

"Hopefully he can carry on this form and fire us to glory."

Haaland has scored 28 goals in 22 appearances in the Champions League, a goals per game record of 1.27; there are 98 teams with a worse goals per game record than him in the competition, while he is the third player to score in each of his first three appearances for an English club in the competition, after Marouane Chamakh for Arsenal and Ferran Torres for City.

Grealish had a frustrating night himself in front of goal, unable to find the net despite taking more shots than any other player (six), but he was repeatedly denied by former Liverpool academy goalkeeper Kamil Grabara.

He was a constant thorn in Copenhagen's side otherwise, and produced a run and pass for Mahrez in the build-up to Alvarez's goal.

"I'm loving it at the moment," Grealish said. "The last three or four games I've loved it, I feel back to myself, playing with that sort of freedom and playing with confidence.

"It would help if I got myself on the scoresheet, I was desperate tonight. It's all about enjoying it and winning, and that's what I’m doing at the moment."

It was not only Grealish who was denied by Grabara, who made 12 saves, the joint-most on record by any goalkeeper on their first start in the Champions League, along with Ruslan Nesheret for Dynamo Kyiv against Barcelona in November 2020 (from 2003-04 onwards).

"You know when the luck's not with you," the England international added, before asking the interviewer if the third goal was an own goal. When it was confirmed it was, Grealish joked: "So I didn't get the assist for that either."

The 27-year-old continued: "I started a lot of games recently so obviously I'm thankful to the manager for that.

"I'm enjoying it, playing football with a smile on my face, really settling in now and playing with confidence."

Jack Grealish has questioned what Graeme Souness' "problem" is after the former Liverpool captain criticised his performances for Manchester City.

England international Grealish joined City in a £100million British-record transfer in 2021 but has struggled to hit the heights he did at Aston Villa.

After six goals and 10 assists in 26 Premier League games for Villa in 2020-21, Grealish contributed only three goals and three assists in the same number of appearances in his debut City campaign.

He has started the 2022-23 season slowly, too, although the England winger scored his first goal in Saturday's 3-0 win at Wolves.

Souness said Grealish is "not a great player", takes "too many touches" and "doesn't deliver enough" – criticism that has left the City man baffled.

"I don't know what his problem is; he always says something about me, but I try not to read a lot of it," Grealish said. 

"It is difficult when he is on Sky Sports, though, and it is everywhere around the training ground at times.

"He was obviously a great player and won a lot, but I don't know what it is with what he says about me.

"I know my own ability. I know before that he used to say a lot of stuff about me not moving the ball quicker, but when I am playing for a manager like Pep Guardiola, and he is telling me to keep the ball as much as I can and have balls to take it everywhere, that is what I will try and do.

"I am always going to have people talk if I am not playing well. I always watch my games back, and I am very critical of myself. I know there were games especially in the second half of last season where I wasn't at my best at all.

"I came back fit and had a strong pre-season and got injured in the second game, and that is why I say that from now on I am just going to get my head down and try and get that fitness back, because I know that I am not at 100 per cent yet.

"I think I have only played one 90 minutes this season, but I think I will always have people on the back of me – that means I have to perform."

Grealish is part of the England squad for the upcoming Nations League games against Italy and Germany.

Jack Grealish admitted he is "more structured" at Manchester City than he was at Aston Villa, but believes it is an inevitability of playing with "so many great players".

Grealish moved to City from Villa in 2021 for a record £100million fee, but has struggled to have the same impact he did at his boyhood club.

The 27-year-old has come in for some criticism in the media, though replied with a goal and a strong performance in Saturday's 3-0 win at Wolves.

Kevin De Bruyne recently stated his belief that his club team-mate is more harshly judged because of who he is, and Grealish somewhat agrees.

"I can see where he's coming from a little bit," he said at a press conference ahead of England's Nations League clash against Italy. "But I think that's the way it is in this country, especially for myself playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world who are winning trophies every single year.

"When I have the price tag I do on my head people are going to want to talk... I have to embrace it and it's just part and parcel [of the game] really."

Grealish has completed 11 dribbles in all competitions for City this season in just six appearances. Only Joao Cancelo (10 appearances) has completed more with 17.

He also spoke of his relationship with Pep Guardiola, and his "structured" role at the Etihad Stadium.

"It’s completely different than the way I was at Villa," Grealish said. "At Villa I was more free, here I'm more structured.

"I have a great relationship with the manager. I've said it in many interviews, its unbelievable the way he thinks and looks at football. He's just obsessed with it and I think you can see why. I have a good relationship with him.

"People might be saying that I have been playing different than the way I used to but I think that's because of the different players I'm playing with as well. I've played with so many great players... It's going to change my game."

One of those "great players" is Erling Haaland, who has hit the ground running at City after arriving from Borussia Dortmund at the end of last season, scoring 14 goals in 10 games so far.

"Everywhere I go people are like 'What's he like?' and I can't speak highly enough of him," Grealish added.

"He's an unbelievable player and a brilliant person. So humble for what he's achieved already and I think I could get something from him. His mindset for scoring goals is just unbelievable."

Jack Grealish has defended Gareth Southgate following "very harsh" criticism of the England manager.

Southgate led the Three Lions to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and then the Euro 2020 final, but recent results have been scrutinised.

England have not won any of their past four Nations League games, losing to Hungary twice and drawing with Italy and Germany.

Ahead of return fixtures against Italy and Germany, Southgate has also faced some backlash following the announcement of his latest squad.

Two months out from the World Cup, Southgate, who said in 2017 he would "never pick on reputation", has called up Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, despite the pair losing their places at Manchester United.

But winger Grealish has come to his manager's defence, saying: "I think [the criticism] was harsh.

"[There was] the final last year and [then losing] the Hungary game last camp. I think the last time we lost to a team in 90 minutes [before Hungary] was Belgium in November 2020. 

"I think it was very harsh and especially with the World Cup and the Euros how well the team had done. I thought it was harsh, but sometimes that's what you get if you're English, and I've certainly had my fair share."

And Grealish, who is likely to feature as England travel to Milan to take on European champions Italy on Friday, believes the country will unite behind the team again when the World Cup kicks off.

"If you have a few bad results, people are going to jump off the bandwagon a little bit," he added.

"Before that, everyone was saying how good we are and how well we'd been doing. We hadn't been beat over 90 minutes in so long.

"I wouldn't say we're underdogs, and we know what talent we have in our dressing room.

"One thing I love about these tournaments is how everyone comes together, so I'm sure we'll have their full support, and two months can't come quick enough.

"I hope for myself that I'm playing regularly for Man City and performing, and hopefully I'll be on the plane."

Kevin De Bruyne feels criticism of Jack Grealish is "not about football" and is so intense only because he plays for England.

Grealish joined Manchester City in a £100million British-record transfer in 2021 but has not yet produced the same output as he had at Aston Villa.

After six goals and 10 assists in 26 Premier League games for Villa in 2020-21, Grealish contributed only three goals and three assists in the same number of appearances in his debut City campaign.

The start to the 2022-23 season has again been slow, although the England winger netted his first goal in Saturday's 3-0 win at Wolves.

De Bruyne's cross teed up that early opener, and the City midfielder has come to the defence of his team-mate, whose lifestyle has also been scrutinised since signing for Pep Guardiola's side.

"It is not about football," De Bruyne said. "Outside of football, the focus is more on [England players].

"I understand because they are English and people tend to look more what is happening.

"I feel like foreign players... for instance, if you have a night out, we don't really get checked that often. Whereas I feel if an English player goes out, it is always in the media somewhere.

"I think people are taking this on board, also. What he does in his private life, he does, nobody should care, but people do."

Grealish has a different role at City, having been Villa's chief creator, crafting 81 chances in his final season at his boyhood club but only 53 last year.

And De Bruyne also points out there are contrasting expectations playing for the champions, meaning Grealish should have been given time to adapt.

"With all due respect, he was at Villa before, and if you lose a game, sometimes it is not the end of the world," De Bruyne added. "But if we lose a game, it is different.

"We have to perform every week and win games. That is different and what he has had to adjust to.

"As long as we win the games and he is doing a good job for us, that is all that matters."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola trusts Jack Grealish "unconditionally" and has urged the England star to express himself more. 

Grealish scored his first goal of the season after 55 seconds in the 3-0 Premier League win over Wolves on Saturday.

Erling Haaland and Phil Foden added further goals as City stretched their unbeaten away run in the English top flight to 22 games – the longest such run in the club's league history.

Grealish thanked Guardiola for putting him in from the start after he was substituted in the 58th minute of the Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund in midweek, but the City boss is not interested in gratitude from his players.

"I unconditionally trust all of them and I trust him unconditionally," Guardiola said. "He scored a goal and every time he had the ball, he was one against one when he took on the full-back all the time, all the time, all the time.

"But he has to play for himself and give the best of himself because that’s what I'm looking for.

"I'm happy with him, happy with the victory and Jack has an incredible personality to play and that's why I’m happy for him, but they don't have to say thank you. I just want the best for themselves every time they play – this is what we are looking for.

"He has to be who he is in the good moments and in bad moments that everyone has. He has to say, 'I am Jack Grealish, this is who I am, I go there with a good mentality and try to the best for myself and my team-mates'."

Guardiola was full of praise for former Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji, who made his Premier League debut at Molineux, hailing the 27-year-old's "perfect temperament".

"He was more than exceptional," Guardiola said. "He is so, so clever. Whether the play is short or long, when he goes, he goes, but not too much to give away a penalty or cause fouls.

"He is so aggressive to go across the opponent and has the perfect temperament to control the situation. Really, really good.

"And John [Stones] was brilliant at full-back, and I'm so happy he could do it two games in a row because we need him."

Jack Grealish thanked Pep Guardiola after scoring his first goal of the season in Manchester City's 3-0 win at Wolves, admitting critics were right to question his output.

The England international opened his account for the campaign after 55 seconds at Molineux when he applied the finishing touch to Kevin De Bruyne's perfectly timed cross.

Grealish, who netted six times during his maiden season at City after moving from Aston Villa for £100million, was substituted in the 58th minute of the Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund in midweek.

He was grateful to be thrown in from the start once more, netting his first goal since a 2-2 draw with West Ham in May, and hopes to continue to repay Guardiola's faith.

"It was a long time coming and nice to get off the mark," Grealish told BT Sport. "Rightly so, people have been asking questions, I should be scoring more and getting more assists.

"I am always going to have people talking about me with the money that was spent on me, but all my career I haven't scored enough goals. I do want to add that to my game.

"It is nice when Pep defends me. He has been brilliant with me. I probably have to thank him because he gave me the opportunity today after my performance on Wednesday because it probably wasn't the best. I am thankful to him."

Erling Haaland doubled City's lead before Wolves had Nathan Collins sent off in the 33rd minute. A strike from Phil Foden midway through the second half made sure of the points for the visitors.

Guardiola saluted "an incredible victory" for his side as they moved top of the Premier League table, with Arsenal not playing Brentford until Sunday, and he also praised Grealish's performance.

"The game started really well for us with the two goals and the red card," the City manager said. "After the Champions League, to come here with the quality they have – they can keep the ball and transitions are fast – it was an incredible victory.

"We struggled a lot after half-time until Phil's goal, so a lot of credit to Wolves.

"Jack played really good. He was strong and he made a good goal coming in. Hopefully, he can make a good international performance and come back fit."

The international break means Guardiola will see many of his players, such as Grealish, join up with their countries in the coming week, with City back in action when they face Manchester United on October 2.

"Fingers crossed, all the players come back fit," Guardiola said. "It is important for them ahead of the World Cup, but hopefully they come back good, ready for the derby."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has come to the defence of record signing Jack Grealish, saying he is not being judged on how many goals and assists he creates during his time on the pitch.

Grealish, 27, arrived at the club last year in a £100million move that made him the most expensive British player in history, but has only been able to contribute six goals and four assists in a City shirt.

He has started one Premier League game this season, and both Champions League fixtures so far, although he has been substituted off in both continental games, including in this past week's 2-1 win against Borussia Dortmund.

Guardiola made an effort to shift the blame away from Grealish when his performance against Dortmund was questioned, pointing the finger at his supporting cast not making his life easier.

"He started really well, but had to stop for a problem in the ankle and we were lucky it was not worse," he said.

"Last game in the final third he was the only one up front who makes aggressive runs one against one, but [he couldn't] make assists [because] he didn’t have his mates in the box, so we left him isolated. When he goes against the full-back, only Erling [Haaland] was there.

"[Ilkay] Gundo[gan] was not there, Kevin [De Bruyne] was not there and they should be there. In the first half especially with the ball we didn’t make any movements to help the players who had the ball, and give him more possibilities to make it easier."

Guardiola added: "I know him and I’m more than happy and delighted with what he’s doing. Now… it's time to get back a little bit of his momentum that he had at the beginning of the season."

The manager with multiple Champions League titles was adamant that just goals and assists was not enough to judge a player like Grealish on, and shared what he is looking for out of the midfielder.

"We didn’t sign for the incredible goals or assists at Aston Villa," he said. "It was another reason, and when he played he did it.

"He competes with top, top players as well and he knows it perfectly, but never complains about that.

"He’s such a nice guy and in the games when he didn’t play, he’s the first to help the team and in the training sessions he’s always there. I’m delighted with his behaviour and everything.

"I want to make goals and I want to make assists and he does too, but it’s not about that. It’s about his contribution without the ball and what he can produce for the other ones and the many, many things that he’s able to do."

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola praised the performance of Jack Grealish after playing an hour in his first game back from injury in Tuesday's 4-0 Champions League win at Sevilla.

Grealish had not played since City's 4-0 Premier League win over Bournemouth on August 13 due to a minor injury.

The pressure is on the 26-year-old England international, who underwhelmed in his first season at City after joining from Aston Villa in August last year for £100million.

Grealish played 38 times, scoring six goals in all competitions last season for City, but did not live up to the expectations of his hefty transfer fee, nor play with his typical freedom.

The midfielder started and played 62 minutes against Sevilla, and while he did not score or provide an assist, Guardiola was delighted with his return.

"Jack arrived incredible in the pre-season," Guardiola said at the post-game press conference.

"In the first game against West Ham unfortunately he had a little injury. It's important for him to have again this 53, 60 minutes."

"The pitch was uncomfortable for the players. He was so aggressive in the first half, more than aggressive than Phil [Foden] in terms of goal and making the movements in there.

"Sometimes missed the last pass but it's not easy there. We need him a lot this season. Jack will be so important. He played a really good game."

Guardiola was also rapt with the debut of deadline-day signing Manuel Akanji, who only joined team training earlier this week following his move from Borussia Dortmund.

"We are delighted, just training one day and a half with us," Guardiola said.

"He showed in Dortmund his experience in Europe. A really, really good central defender that City bought to us.

"He played really well, his focus, attention. He has a quality quite similar to Aymer [Laporte], he can break the lines with a pass. He read the spaces really well. I am very pleased for him."

Erling Haaland grabbed two of City's four goals, taking his season tally to 12 since his move from Dortmund.

"I think his numbers in his career, not just here, in previous teams is quite similar," Guardiola told BT Sport. "He has an incredible sense of goal."

Haaland became the first City player to score on both his Premier League debut and Champions League debut for the club.

The 22-year-old is also the fastest player to 25 goals in Champions League history, coming across 20 games, bettering Ruud van Nistelrooy and Filippo Inzaghi's mark of 30 games.

Pep Guardiola insisted winning the Champions League is "not an obsession" for Manchester City, as he refuted suggestions European success could determine whether he stays at the Etihad Stadium.

Meanwhile, Guardiola has backed Jack Grealish for a successful second campaign with the club, praising his contribution to last season's Premier League title win.

Guardiola's team have won four of the last five Premier League titles and are heavily fancied ahead of the 2022-23 campaign after recruiting Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips during a busy transfer window.

However, City are yet to experience European success under Guardiola, with last term's humiliating Champions League semi-final collapse against Real Madrid representing the latest of several near misses on the continental stage.

But the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach, who has just one year remaining on his City contract, insists the absence of a Champions League title will not impact any decision on his future.

"It's not about that. I would like to win it, it's not an obsession, it's a dream, a target we can do," Guardiola said ahead of Sunday's trip to West Ham.

"I'm completely aware how good the opponents are and how difficult this competition is. I said many times, maybe people don't believe me or think I'm making an excuse, I didn't come here to win the Champions League.

"I'm the first to want it, [but] it was the same in Munich. In Barcelona we won it twice, I wanted to win four! The 30 or 40 seasons where I'm a manager, I want to win every single Champions League, [but] I don't feel a failure when we don't win it.

"We want it, but if we win it I'm not the master of the universe. We tried, we were closer last season, we will try this season.

"Improving the team, playing better, this is main reason I'm here. I'm sad because we lost the Community Shield, but especially because we didn't play as we can do. The only thing I'm here for is to make the team play better, to see the team, watch on the touchline and say, 'I like it'.

"The consequence is to win or lose, we are going to lose sooner or later the Premier League. Nothing is eternal, not even this team that has done many good things in the last years. To win four Premier Leagues in five years is something extraordinary.

"We can improve. We can do better, this is the only reason [I'm here]. I'm not leaving here [saying] 'I have to win the Premier League, what happens if I lose the Premier League?'"

As City successfully defended the Premier League title last season, only Kevin De Bruyne (87) and Bernardo Silva (59) created more chances than Grealish (53) for Guardiola's men in all competitions.

However, the England international has faced criticism from some quarters after registering just eight goals and four assists in all competitions following a club-record move from Aston Villa.

But Guardiola insists Grealish's contribution was vital to City's triumph last term and wants to see more from all of his attacking stars, not only the 26-year-old.   

"The most important thing you have to know is Jack Grealish won the Premier League. That's why we bought him, to help us to win the Premier League, and we did it," Guardiola said.

"Jack is incredibly loved in the locker room, he's incredibly humble. Of course, I want more, but not just for Jack, for everyone.

"Of course, I definitely want more, he has to fight because the competition up front is so big, we have really good players.

"We're optimistic because he arrived very well, we know they have the World Cup around the corner, Gareth [Southgate] has to make big selections because there are many good players in the England team, and everybody knows what they have to do."

Grealish will likely assume a more important role after the departures of fellow attackers Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling, and Guardiola believes a refresh of his title-winning squad was necessary.

"Always I thought that after five or six years together, we need to change. Changing the manager is an option, or to change a few players, always," he added. 

"To the old players, it's normal, new players bring new energies, new desire. You have to take decision always before it's going to happen. Always the intention is to get better."

Erling Haaland netted a goal on his debut as Manchester City defeated Bayern Munich 1-0 at Lambeau Field in their pre-season friendly on Saturday.

Torrential rain meant lengthy delays and 40-minute halves, with the two sides sent back to respective dressing rooms after only 13 minutes of play, but not before Haaland opened his account for City.

The 22-year-old was left with a relatively simple finish, tapping in from close range after the reigning Bundesliga champions failed to clear a dead ball, with Kevin de Bruyne playing Jack Grealish in for the evential assist.

The Norway international made way for Julian Alvarez during a shortened half-time break, while Bayern looked particularly out of sorts in possession without the talismanic Robert Lewandowski.

Bayern managed only three shots over the 80 minutes - with Gabriel Vidovic taking their only attempt in the penalty area in the 73rd minute - in comparison to City's 22.

Alvarez, De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez had chances to double the margin and the reigning Premier League champions arguably should have per the xG count, notching up a cumulative score of 2.42 to Bayern's 0.11.

Perhaps taking a page out of legendary Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson's playbook, it is out with the old at Manchester City and in with the new in what has been a busy transfer window to date.

On the back of winning a fourth Premier League title in five seasons, City have waved goodbye to long-serving and reliable midfielder Fernandinho, while sanctioning the exits of forwards Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – the latter's move to Chelsea expected to go through in the coming days.

It is undoubtedly a risk from City's perspective, not least with Jesus and Sterling joining fellow big-six clubs Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, but one the reigning English champions feel is worth taking as they freshen up their side.

Plenty of focus will undoubtedly be on new arrivals Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez and Kalvin Phillips (sorry, Stefan Ortega), but Pep Guardiola will also need other squad members to step up in City's quest for more major honours.

That is a category Jack Grealish, now into his second season at the Etihad Stadium following last year's British record £100million transfer, fits into on the back of a rather mixed first 12 months or so in Manchester.

Unusually for such a big-money transfer, and for a player moving between clubs in the same league, Grealish was afforded a settling in period at City and occasionally went under the radar – right up until May's title celebrations, that is!

But with Sterling no longer around, the former Aston Villa star must now deliver if Guardiola's gamble is to pay off. Here, Stats Perform looks at exactly what Grealish offers to City, and the areas he can perhaps still improve.


GREALISH OVERLOOKED

Allowing Sterling to leave would not have been an easy decision for City, even if he did become more of a peripheral figure in his final 18 months or so at the club – coinciding with a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United in March 2021.

The versatile forward had started 70 per cent of City's games in all competitions between his debut and that loss to United, compared to 53 per cent of the Citizens' subsequent 77 matches.

He was named among the substitutes in both legs of the thrilling Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, as well as the final-day showdown with Villa in the Premier League.

But rather tellingly, it was Sterling who Guardiola turned to from the bench in the first leg against Madrid, with Grealish playing a watching brief throughout, as was the case in that game against Villa when City were chasing three goals.

Put simply, Guardiola felt he had options better than Grealish when in need of goals. But with wide forwards Sterling and Jesus gone, that surely cannot be the case this season – unless, of course, the plan is to rely on Haaland up top.

 

THE STATS DON'T LIE

Grealish played 39 times for City in all competitions in his first season at the Etihad, 31 of those being starts, ranking him level with Riyad Mahrez (31 starts) and behind Sterling (32) and Phil Foden (36) in a similar area of the pitch. Jesus, incidentally, started just 28 games for City in 2021-22.

While that is a pretty telling statistic in its own right, Grealish's – let's face it – hugely underwhelming direct-goals involvement of just 10 in a high-scoring City side is what garnered the most attention when picking apart his first year under Guardiola.

Eight other City players directly contributed to more goals in all competitions last season, with Sterling registering 15 more combined goals and assists than Grealish. Mahrez, now well suited to playing in Guardiola's complex system, led the way with 33.

Grealish himself admitted midway through last season that he needed to play a bigger part in front of goal, but felt the statistics were not truly reflecting his performances in the final third.

"I think [stats] are important because at the end of the day that is what people look at such as how many goal involvements us attackers have. Especially when you come to a club with the price tag that I did," he said.

"If you don't get some [goals and assists] for a few games, everyone starts to talk. I think they are important but there will be times where you're playing well and the goals and assists just aren't coming. That's what I have felt recently. 

"In the Watford game the other day I could have scored about four or five and I came off the pitch with nothing. Even the Leeds game, we scored seven goals as well and I only got one."

In that Watford game mentioned by Grealish, the England international finished with an expected goals (xG) value of 0.83 in his 68 minutes on the pitch but could not find the net from any of his five efforts, three of which were on target. 

That compares to two goals from three shots for midfield team-mate Bernardo Silva from an xG of 0.28, with Sterling scoring City's other goal in that 3-1 Premier League win at Vicarage Road.


... OR DO THEY

That Watford game was very much a microcosm of Grealish's time at City to date, with the underlying figures backing up his previous point about his efforts perhaps not paying off. 

His four assists in 2021-22, for example, came from an expected assists (xA) return of 7.08 – that differential of 3.08 being the highest of any City player. Effectively, had his team-mates put away certain chances, Grealish's season would have had a slightly more positive spin.

Indeed, the 78 chances created by the 26-year-old last season was bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (129) among City players in all competitions, though just 10 of those were defined as 'big chances' by Opta, which is the same number as central defender Aymeric Laporte.

This is by no means to say Grealish's shortcomings last season were down to those around him. If he is to truly thrive under Guardiola, though, the shackles will surely have to be released if the Grealish that lit up the Premier League with Villa is to be seen again.

The Grealish that plays with freedom and flair – the reason Guardiola pushed hard for the club to pay a nine-figure sum for the transfer, after all – was there to see for England in their recent Nations League games.

He made a huge impact down the left-hand side from the bench with England trailing against Germany, managing six touches in the opposition box despite playing just 18 minutes, which was double that of any England player other than Harry Kane (seven).

Grealish then played a part in the incident that led to England being awarded a penalty in which Kane converted to snatch a 1-1 draw. That is very much the difference-making cameo Guardiola did not see enough of last time out.

The good news for Grealish is that he may be afforded more opportunities to get at opponents now that City have a target man in Haaland to aim for. The slick passing moves will not be done away with, as such, but Haaland is completely different in stature to any player City had up top last season.

And after a whole year of working under Guardiola, including a first pre-season, Grealish will now be far more accustomed to the demands expected of him if he is to become a regular in the starting line-up.

"I am just trying to keep improving all of the time and I know for a fact that the longer I am here the more I will improve," he added in that interview seven months ago.

With the old guard gone, the time has now arrived for Grealish to prove he has what it takes to thrive under Guardiola.

Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and a host of other stars have congratulated England's Young Lions after they won the 2022 European Under-19 Championship.

Ian Foster's side came from behind against Israel in Friday's final in Slovakia to win 3-1 after extra-time, five years after their last triumph in the tournament.

Callum Doyle's second half finish cancelled out Oscar Gloch's opener, before young Aston Villa duo Carney Chukwuemeka and Aaron Ramsey sealed the deal in an extended final half-hour.

It marked the second comeback win on the trot after the Young Lions were forced to recover against Italy in their semi-final.

Their triumph however has been roundly celebrated by senior stars, including former Villa man Grealish, who broke through at Euro 2020 with England following his final season with the club.

"Get in there boys! [A] massive well done to everyone involved!" the Manchester City winger wrote on Twitter.

Three Lions captain Harry Kane also offered his congratulations, adding: "Brilliant lads. Well done and enjoy the celebrations."

Several members of the winning squad will harbour ambitions of breaking into the senior set-up in the coming years, with Mason Mount and Aaron Ramsdale among those who won in 2017 to have since become full England internationals.

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