Souness nails Grealish ‘concern’ as new Man City ideally suited to pre-Pep Aston Villa maverick

Will Ford
Souness Grealish
Graeme Souness has hit out at Jack Grealish.

It doesn’t look like Pep Guardiola is going to beat the fun out of Jeremy Doku as he did with Jack Grealish, who was far better suited to the current Manchester City system when he arrived than he is now.

Jack Grealish was described as a “good, not great” player by Graeme Souness after his debut season at Manchester City, before a series of back and forths between the two that consisted of shrugging of shoulders from the England international and content-driven comebacks from a man dead set on testing his own theory that “the modern player doesn’t take criticism well”.

The feud took a sabbatical for most of 2023 as Grealish’s treble-winning contributions allowed little room for condemnation. He made 50 appearances in all competitions, starting 40 of them, including every knockout game en route to Champions League glory and the FA Cup semi and final. After a year of his game being broken down and built up again by Pep Guardiola, Grealish became a lynchpin in the most successful season in the club’s history.

He got just five goals and 11 assists in all competitions, but goal contributions were not the metric by which Guardiola measured his more nuanced worth to the team. And yet, Souness – in his latest jibe – predictably ignored said nuance and focused on those most basic of numbers to discredit Grealish’s value this season.

“He only has only two assists this season, so there you go. He’s a forward!”

That’s two assists at a rate of one every 361 minutes compared to 316 minutes last season – no great difference.

“Grealish has become very predictable. He takes his full-back down the line before checking inside and playing it square.”

Again, it was much the same story last season, when Grealish’s ability to draw defenders towards him and open up space for others was his primary attacking purpose, while his dramatic improvement defensively was also key to his place in the team. And in any case, the stats don’t back up Souness’ claim – Grealish is actually carrying the ball into the penalty area far more this season than last (4.86 per 90 vs 2.76). Unless of course Souness means he’s always been “predictable”.

Guardiola didn’t seem to mind, but perhaps now he does. And this is where we agree with Souness – Grealish should indeed be “very concerned” by Jeremy Doku.

Guardiola has replaced Grealish with a winger with many of the same characteristics as the player Grealish used to be before he had the fun beaten out of him. Doku’s first thought is to beat his man and create a chance for himself or someone else. That was Grealish before Pep got his hands on him, with the admittedly stark difference between the pair Doku’s extraordinary speed off the mark.

Jeremy Doku joined Manchester City from Rennes in the summer.

As things stand, with Doku starting eight Premier League games to Grealish’s three, the pecking order at City is clear, and it seems to be the area of the team that Guardiola’s levelled up this season in his unremitting quest for evolution.

Guardiola’s claim that Grealish’s “composure” was key to their 3-0 win over Manchester United indicated that he may turn to him in the bigger games, but Grealish found himself on the bench once again for the away clash with Chelsea. And though he’s started every Champions League game he’s been fit for thus far, Tuesday’s win over RB Leipzig highlighted Doku’s ascendency over Grealish on the left wing, as the former replaced the latter to turn the game on its head in the second half.

Any hope that Guardiola will do a Grealish on Doku – make him a functional cog in an attacking machine rather than a mercurial free spirit – is greatly reduced by the tactical change that now sees some centre-back or other at left-back that doesn’t need the defensive support that Grealish was required to provide for Joao Cancelo in the first half of last season.

In what must be a painful reality for Grealish but comical irony for the rest of us, the player he was when he arrived at Manchester City would be far better suited to the current system than the player he’s been turned into to fit the previous one.

And any attempt from Grealish to revert to his former self – assuming he’s even able to – will surely be given short shrift by Guardiola, who will have Doku tearing defences apart week in week out while the former maverick turned conformist sits on the bench as a safe option in reserve when needs must.