When Jack Grealish was announced as a Manchester City player, there were plenty of disappointed United supporters.
26-year-old Grealish has been outstanding since his £100million move from Aston Villa in the summer, and he continued his great start with a goal on his Champions League debut for the club.
He lit up the Etihad stadium by cutting in on his right foot from the left-hand channel, curling in a wonderful effort as City won 6-3 against RB Leipzig.
On Wednesday evening, Grealish also produced an assist for City’s first goal of the night, whipping in a wonderful cross onto the head of Nathan Ake, who powered his team into the lead.
Grealish himself was receiving plaudits for his performance against the German side, notably from manager Pep Guardiola, who thinks the England midfielder is getting better each day;
He said after the game: “Hopefully it can be the first of many (his goal).
“I’ve had the feeling every day he is playing better and I’m pretty sure they will be even better in the future.
“His contribution was high and I am delighted for his game.”
The performance on his European debut has taken his tally to two goals and two assists in six appearances for the club and he will most likely improve upon that as the season progresses.
But, with Grealish being in a City shirt, it’s made some United supporters think; “what could’ve been”.
During the 2019/20 season, United were reportedly strong favourites for Grealish’s signature after it became known that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a big admirer of the former Villa captain.
The player even scored a fantastic goal during the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, cutting onto his right foot before bending the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net. It went down as one of the goals of the season as he continued his upward trajectory.
At the time, it was thought that Grealish would come into Old Trafford and provide competition for Paul Pogba so the weight was off his shoulders. However, Villa priced him at around £80million and United weren’t prepared to pay the fee. If Dean Smith’s side were relegated, then it could’ve been a different story, because his value would’ve dropped.
Instead, United made a move for Donny van de Beek.
It was known that Grealish could play in a box-to-box/creative midfielder position because he’d done so in the past during his time in the Championship. At the beginning of Villa’s first season back in the Premier League, he also adopted a more central position.
When Grealish did score that goal at United’s ground, he did so off the left-hand side in a three-man attack. This is also similar to where he’s been playing under Guardiola.
Above is a graph of Grealish’s heat map during his time at City and as we can see, he’s dominated that left-hand touchline of Guardiola’s attack. Very rarely has he adjusted his positioning and both of his goals have come from this area of the field.
Now, in the context of United, you’re probably wondering ‘how would that work?’ Well, it wouldn’t.
If Grealish was at United at the moment, supporters would be moaning as to where he’d actually fit in at the club. On the left, Solskjaer has too many options. Jadon Sancho can play there. Marcus Rashford will undoubtedly be the Norwegian’s first-choice in that position when he returns from injury. Paul Pogba has also performed there too.
Grealish was a fan favourite for England supporters during Euro 2020, which made his stock rise even higher. He was a ‘poster boy’ and if you look at previous transfers in the past, it’s always been United who’ve gone for that ‘poster boy.’ It’s no surprise why so many wanted him at the club.
But, he would’ve struggled if he didn’t play as the left-winger and he’s even admitted that he loves playing there.
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Speaking after the game against Leipzig, he told BT Sport : “When I’m in that position off the left side, running into the opposition area, I back myself against anyone to have a go! That’s what I did and luckily it paid off… I’m delighted to get the goal!”
As good a player as Grealish is, it would’ve become a problem for Solskjaer because he simply has too many players who can play on the left-hand side of an attack. Clearly, he’s at his deadliest when he performs in that role, but United are already stacked with depth in this position.
It would’ve been a great signing that fans might’ve loved, but currently, if Grealish came to United, he wouldn’t struggle but would find it more challenging than at City.
United were right to not make a move when they could’ve done.
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