Grealish shows why Guardiola has no doubts that £100m man belongs in Man City's ruthless machine

Jack Grealish Manchester City 2021-22Getty Images

This was the Jack Grealish that Manchester City have been waiting for.

Socks rolled down, the ball at his feet, gliding through challenges and opening up defences, Grealish put in his most dazzling display since he made his British-record transfer was completed against Leeds United, illustrating exactly why Pep Guardiola was convinced to play £100 million ($135m) for him.

Leeds, whose injury problems were no excuse for their abysmal performance or the eventual 7-0 scoreline, allowed City to enjoy themselves, and no one more so than Grealish.

The 26-year-old looked like he was back having fun, trusting his natural ability to drift past players and demanding the ball in a bid to change the game.

There has been a feeling at City that Grealish has been unable to shake off his awe of his new City team-mates, as while he has been effective and hard-working in the champions' climb back to the top of the Premier League table, he has not delivering the moments of magic that made him a match-winner at Aston Villa.

He was, for example, overflowing in his praise for Kevin De Bruyne long before he was even a transfer target for Guardiola, while he recently said that it is “a joke” how technically good Joao Cancelo is.

Throw in the brilliance of players like Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez, and it perhaps should not be surprising that even someone as confident as Grealish would start doubting their own ability.

Jack Grealish Man City 2021
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Crucially, Guardiola has never doubted his new attacking star, and spoke ahead of the Leeds game about how sure he was that Grealish would eventually come good.

"He has to do exactly what he is doing, no more than that. The rest will come," the Catalan said at his pre-match press conference.

"He has chances to score two or three goals every game, and one day he is going to do it. He could have had a hat-trick against Watford and in the last game one or two goals again.

"Never in my career did I find one season when every player stays, from the beginning to the end, in top form. There are highs and lows.

"But he doesn't have to score. What he has to do is play like he knows what to do, feel that his contribution is helping to win games and the rest will come."

Fortunately for Grealish, Guardiola and City, the England international did find the net on Tuesday for what was his first league goal since August, albeit not via the method most have come to expect from the playmaker.

Jack Grealish Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 2021-22
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His bullet header from Riyad Mahrez's 13th-minute cross marked the first time that Grealish has scored a headed goal in the Premier League, though he had already given notice of his intent in a more expected manner just seconds before as he cut inside past two players before hitting a low shot that was palmed away by Illan Meslier.

A minute later, he exchanged passes with De Bruyne and was a last-ditch scramble away from running in behind the Leeds defence.

By the time he got his goal, City were already ahead through Phil Foden, and by the full-time whistle Leeds had capitulated to their heaviest ever Premier League defeat, and joint-worst competitive loss in their history.

It was a devastating team performance from City, and Grealish was no longer on the fringes, but instead found himself directing proceedings.

He has acclimatised to the Guardiola philosophy quicker than most, knowing when and which passes to make, the right places to move with the ball, how to press and when to drop and help out the defence.

The only thing that has been missing are some of those quicksilver moments that made him so irresistible to City in the summer. The hope is that the floodgates will open in that regard now he has broken his goalscoring drought.

It helped that Leeds were so open in trying to stop City in what was a rather unusual sight at the Etihad Stadium. Recent home games against lower mid-table teams like Wolves, Crystal Palace and Southampton have been a battle against well-drilled defensive sides, determined to keep City out.

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Guardiola has in turn tried to stretch opponents to create more space, leaving Grealish tight to the left flank and playing more like a traditional winger than a floating inside forward.

That does not mean he cannot impact games, but being further away from goal has made it harder for him to get those key goal and assist stats that he will judged upon come the end of the campaign.

Those goal stats improved against Leeds and should get the critics off his back for a few days, but it was his role in such a mesmerising performance will help Grealish himself believe that he really belongs on this stage.