Jack Grealish told to step up by Pep Guardiola after first Man City winner since £100m move

Pep Guardiola gave one of his on-pitch lectures to Jack Grelaish after the final whistle
Pep Guardiola gave one of his on-pitch lectures to Jack Grelaish after the final whistle - PA Wire/Nick Potts

At the final whistle Pep Guardiola was doing Pep Guardiola things: on the pitch chastising Ruben Dias for committing a foul in the last-minute that could have resulted in an equalising goal and, even more animatedly, deep in conversation as he coached Jack Grealish.

It ended with the Manchester City manager ruffling Grealish’s hair. But he was deadly serious. It is time for the £100 million man to step up. It is time for Grealish to score more goals.

Remarkably the one he scored against Luton was the first he has struck to be the matchwinner at City since his move from Aston Villa in Aug 2021. That means in his previous 106 appearances for City he has not scored the decisive goal; the goal that actually claimed the win.

Grealish is not prolific. He never has been. He was not bought for that. But he does need to have more decisive moments and the 28-year-old would be the first to admit that he has, so far this season, failed to reach the astonishing heights of the second half of the last campaign.

But City needed him here. They were without the injured Erling Haaland and, more directly as he competes against him for a place in the team, Jeremy Doku who has suffered a muscle problem and Grealish had to be more involved.

As he celebrated at the end, Guardiola was not allowing that to escape. He pulled Grealish aside.

“Jack in the first-half had to shoot on his first touch and didn’t,” he explained. “In the second-half, he did it. They (the players) don’t need to prove to me what they are capable of because they are an extraordinary group of players and characters but the competition demands that they prove it again.

“In general, it’s normal to say City aren’t the same and it’s over. That’s nice - let them prove that wrong and that we still want to be there and compete. We need to live that, and how satisfied the players now are.”

Grealish does have a poor shooting style. He does not shoot quickly; he does not create space. He tends to wait and then when he does shoot, it is so often blocked because he delays and is crowded out. And Guardiola was not hiding how frustrating he finds this.

It is why he was so delighted with the winning goal. Bernardo Silva had superbly struck the equaliser, an opportunistic first-time hit, but the second was more about how Guardiola wants his team to score goals.

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva celebrates after Jack Grealish scores their second goal
Bernado Silva lashed home City's equaliser early in the second half - Reuters/Isabel Infantes

There was far more control in it and also there was the pressing from the front that Guardiola demands with Julian Alvarez blocking a pass – Luton initially wrongly complained the ball had struck his arm when it smashed against his face – and recovering to collect Phil Foden’s before crossing low.

Grealish arrived at the far post to slide in and poke the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski. It was textbook City. It was textbook Guardiola: create an opportunity that is easy to execute because you have players making the correct runs with the correct delivery.

It is how he turned Raheem Sterling into a relatively prolific goal-scorer. It is what Guardiola calls the “smooth finish” because the chances of missing are reduced. Grealish has to show that desire and make that run far more often.

“We have to score. Put the ball in the net. We have to arrive in time,” Guardiola said and it sounded like an instruction he would bark out on the training ground.

Without Haaland, City have had few of those. Their over-reliance on the Norwegian is understandable, given what a devastating striker he is, but when they fail to provide for him they become too predictable and toothless – as against Villa. Alvarez has contributed but is finding goals hard to come by and is now lacking confidence as was shown when he spurned a clear chance in the first-half.

So Grealish – and Foden and Silva – have to contribute more. City no longer have Ilkay Gundogan or Riyad Mahrez, proven goal contributors, so it cannot all come down to Haaland no matter how good he is. Especially when teams are double-marking him this season and, even more importantly, when he is absent.

Jack Grealish of Manchester City celebrates after the Premier League match between Luton Town and Manchester City at Kenilworth Road on December 10, 2023 in Luton, England
A big goal in a big moment from Jack Grealish - Getty Images/Marc Atkins

City had to win this. Anything short of victory would have led to a crisis being called. At half-time they were 1-0 down - and facing back-to-back defeats for the first time since Dec 2019 – when Elijah Adebayo headed in powerfully. They were staring at five league games in a row without a win.

To reinforce Guardiola’s point they had spurned chances. Yes, Kaminski had pulled off three good saves but there was no conviction in City’s finishing and they looked like a team strangely lacking in belief.

Like Rodri, Grealish had returned from suspension with both missing the midweek loss against Villa and so he had that extra motivation and managed to show that with his goal.

Not that he played well. Not, indeed, that City had played well. There is still something lacking in the champions and Luton will feel sore that this ended in a defeat especially after the late loss a few days earlier, also at Kenilworth Road, against Arsenal. They were outstanding at times, especially when Ross Barkley was involved.

It proves that this is undoubtedly a difficult place to come, Liverpool were fortunate to gain a draw, with Grealish later waxing lyrical about Luton’s rise through the leagues and his appreciation of that given his own football background.

It is partly what we love about Grealish. He has now scored in back-to-back games, having done so against Tottenham last weekend. That should be used as a springboard for him. It is unquestionably time for him to score more and be more central for City.

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