Pep Guardiola believes that Jack Grealish has adapted to Manchester City better than even the player thinks after his high-profile switch from Aston Villa.
Grealish can expect a frosty reception from his hometown club if he performs Wednesday night, with many fans saddened by everything from the way his departure and harmless interviews after the switch to his perceived role in the formality that led to the firing of Dean Smith.
If the believers Etihad have welcomed Grealish 90 miles up the country, it has not been a smooth transition to life under Pep Guardiola; the 26-year-old was benched for the Manchester derby before suffering an injury with England likely to deny him a start on his return to Villa, and the player even admitted in a pre-match interview that he has struggled with his new environment.
City’s manager would have liked Grealish to be more selfish in the final third, but was very complimenting on his start – especially considering the number of players who have struggled in their first year under him.
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“My opinion is that he has played much better than he might think,” Guardiola said.
“Maybe in Villa it all started with him and he was free, you know, now he’s in a new position and may not have been as determined or so clinical in the last third. Maybe because he respects his teammates, maybe because it is a new environment and it’s normal, it’s a process.He needs time.
“All the players who come here in the first season are always struggling. But what he sees and what he has to do is so easy for him with the quality he has. Just be free here and be who you are, that is everything, no more.
“I do not tell the players what to do – they play. We have a map and a plan, and it depends on the opponents how we are going to attack and defend, but after that they have to make the decisions and they have to be completely free.
“When they get the ball close to the field, my friend, you decide what you want. That’s why you’re Jack Grealish and not another player. They have to play and create their moments. ”
Guardiola insisted that any hostile reception would not deter him from choosing Grealish – any buh would be a sign of love for him, he said – although the indication is that upcoming matches against Watford or RB Leipzig are more realistic dates for the striker to return to the starting lineup.
A squad ’emergency’ that sees a number of players ruled out or questionable means Grealish could come off the bench, however, and the decision to give James McAtee and Coke Palmer 90 minutes each with the U23s suggests more senior involvement in Villa Parker.
City’s coach has so far had to call on Grealish in this campaign due to injuries elsewhere, suggesting that any mixed review during the player’s start may come from the fact that he is not offered the same level of protection as others new signatures were.
“With Bernardo and Riyad, those two examples, it might not have been a match for them as I did not let them play much. But I think some players need more time to adapt,” he said.
“I remember when Raheem came here with Manuel, he did not play much, and afterwards, when he started playing with us, he went damn – he started flying. Sometimes it’s the environment, a new house, privacy, but not just Jack – all the players.
“Sometimes you live your whole life in one place and then you go somewhere else and the expectations are high in terms of what to do. But play badly? Absolutely not. I have not seen a match yet where he did not play with the quality he has. “