No De Bruyne, no Foden - £100m Grealish must lead Man City's title defence

No De Bruyne, no Foden - £100m Grealish must lead Man City's title defence

Jack Grealish left his boyhood club Aston Villa for one reason - to win trophies.

But just putting his signature on a Manchester City contract does not mean he will be handed the keys to the trophy cabinet; the England international will need to show his quality and go out and win them.

And his role in keeping the silverware rolling in at the Etihad Stadium might take on importance at an earlier stage than either he or Pep Guardiola might have expected.

City will face an even bigger challenge in their Premier League title defence this season and this time they might not be able to afford a similar slow start to the one they had last term.

With so many players missing through illness, injury or a lack of sharpness, Grealish will need get straight down to business and ensure City don’t fall behind rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in the early weeks of the season - all set to be significantly stronger this time around.

“I feel I can bring a lot to the team and that’s what the manager has brought me here for,” he said at his official unveiling.

“I can’t wait to play with these players. Sometimes at Villa I would get doubled up. Here it would be more difficult because there’s so much talent all over the pitch and that might make it harder for teams to double up on me which will give me more space and freedom to attack players one-v-one.

“It can take time, you need to find that chemistry, but after a few weeks I’ll have that and will look forward to it.”

He might not get that time though.

City were slow out of the blocks last season - still in the bottom half of the table at the end of November and they won just five of their opening 12 games.

Much of the squad came back later than at other clubs after an extended Champions League mini-tournament in Lisbon but they eventually put together a run of victories to catch up on their rivals and move clear.

Last season was again longer for City than for others with a Champions League final after the end of the campaign. Meanwhile, the bulk of the squad were away at the European Championship or Copa America with the England and Brazil players, who reached their respective finals, only back on Monday.

Guardiola likes to give his players more rest and relaxation in the hope that the freshness will reward them later in the season when they are aiming to still be challenging for all four trophies.

Following the Community Shield defeat to Leicester, he admitted to some concern that his side might not be ready for Sunday’s Premier League opener against Tottenham.

And the fixture list won't get much easier with successive away trips to Leicester, Chelsea and Liverpool before the international break in October.

Of the line-up that started the Champions League defeat to Chelsea, only three were fit enough for Saturday’s Wembley defeat to the Foxes and many will still be missing for the clash with Spurs.

Most concerning is the potential lack of creativity and goals.

Harry Kane’s proposed transfer to is highly unlikely to go through before the weekend and Guardiola is certain to be without key men Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden.

De Bruyne suffered an ankle injury at Euro 2020 with Belgium and is being carefully monitored by the club’s medical staff while Foden is set for a significant amount of time on the sidelines after damaging his foot in training with England.

Guardiola does have Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva available, and the Portuguese midfielder could yet leave before the transfer window closes in September.

It gives Grealish an early opportunity to show his qualities and quickly justify the decision by City to pay Aston Villa £100 million ($138m) to make him the most expensive English footballer in history.

“It means so much to me that the club were willing to spend that much money on me,” he added. “If anything it just fills me with confidence.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure on that price tag at all. It just shows how much the club and the manager value me and that only gives me confidence going forward.

“Now I just hope I can repay this whole football club by winning as many titles as possible and winning that trophy we all want.”

Other big signings have taken their time to find their way playing in Guardiola’s philosophy.

Among the current squad, Mahrez, Bernardo and Joao Cancelo all struggled in their first seasons at the club but have gone onto be big influences.

Previous club record signing Ruben Dias, however, was chucked straight in to City’s struggling defence last September and helped turn to the season around - going on to be named the FWA Footballer of the Year.

It can be harder for creative players and once that initial period is over, Grealish is hoping that the brilliant coach can make him an ever better player.

“I feel like he can take my game to the next level,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m going to learn from him every day and I can’t wait to work with him, the way he is in training is unbelievable.

“The stuff he does, it’s stuff I would never think of but it just works, everyone here is so desperate to play under him, Pep was a massive factor in me coming here.”

The potential is huge, but in those early weeks of the season, Grealish’s natural talent and instinct could be pivotal in giving City a base to launch a challenge for a fourth title in five years.
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