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Man City cruelly denied 'time freezer' in Man Utd clash as Liverpool and Arsenal handed major title boost

Man City cruelly denied 'time freezer' in Man Utd clash as Liverpool and Arsenal handed major title boost

Jack Grealish's injury set-back is a huge blow for City.

On the face of it, there are many players more crucial to the success of Manchester City than Jack Grealish.

Ask most football fans, City followers or not, to name the key players in Pep Guardiola's side and the usual suspects will likely crop up.

Kevin De Bruyne. Rodri. Ruben Dias. John Stones. Ederson. Erling Haaland.

What each brings to the table is clear to see, from Haaland's lethal finishing to Stones' ability to step into midfield, De Bruyne's physics-bending passes to Rodri's composure and passing range.

For many, the impact of Grealish has been less obvious. The £100 million winger has scored just 14 goals and provided 17 assists in 116 games in sky blue, with just five goal contributions coming in his third year at the club.

On Tuesday Grealish returned from a two-week injury lay-off to start City's 6-2 FA Cup win against Luton. He lasted just 38 minutes before he suffered what appeared to be a recurrence of a groin issue.

Despite Grealish's lack of offensive production this term, his absence could severely damage City's Premier League title hopes while boosting those of Liverpool and Arsenal.

Over the last few seasons, Guardiola's playing model at City has revolved around control.

Pep wants his side to retain the ball as much as possible when they attack, slowly building attacks with lots of passes not just to pull apart compact defences, but also to reduce the risk of counter-attacks.

The faster you attack, the faster the ball comes back at you.

"We should spend more time in the final third, give more passes in that moment," noted Guardiola after City drew 3-3 with Newcastle last season, a game Grealish missed through injury.

Grealish was devastated when he was forced off. (

"If Jack [Grealish] plays there or Riyad [Mahrez] or Bernardo [Silva] play on the right, they are more calm and they help us to be all together, and when we lose the ball, we are there and they [the opponents] cannot run [counter-attack because City's players are in the correct positions to react."

Last year Guardiola managed to find a balance between control and dynamic attack; the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva Grealish brought control, while Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez were more direct, more likely to launch counter-attacks and make risky passes forwards.

Following the summer departures of Gundogan and Mahrez and the arrival of players with different qualities and profiles, City's style in 2023/24 has been less controlled.

The reigning Premier League champions are just one point behind league leaders Liverpool and could still successfully defend their treble, but Guardiola's side have looked more vulnerable to counter-attacks and unable to shut games down like they once did.

High-scoring draws with Tottenham and Chelsea saw City concede goals through transitions after giving away possession in attack, while wins against Bournemouth and Brentford were made nervy by an inability to keep hold of the ball.

Grealish joined City in 2022. (Image

What Grealish brings to this City team is magnified by what City's other left winger, Jeremy Doku, can and cannot do.

Grealish draws defenders out of position and frees up space for others to exploit, he has a great understanding of when to slow down attacks and when to speed them up, and he rarely gives the ball away.

During City's 3-1 win away at FC Copenhagen in the Champions League earlier in February, journalist and close friend of Guardiola Marti Perarnau posted on X: "Jack is the team's rest area. He's a midfielder who freezes time from his winger position."

Doku, by comparison, is more adventurous, more raw, more inclined to try riskier through balls and dribble at defenders. He's an attacker who excites and gets fans out of their seats, but sometimes that just isn't what City need.

Depending on the severity of Grealish's groin issue, City could be without him for upcoming league games against Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Aston Villa, plus a potential Champions League quarter-final tie.

All are sides that will look to hurt City through transitions, something Grealish would have helped to counteract.

Arsenal and Liverpool have their own tough schedules to deal with, but neither are missing a player who plays such an integral role in their most effective strategy for winning.

It's not obvious at first, but Grealish's absence could be play a key role in one of the tightest title races in years.

Featured Image Credit: Getty

Topics: Manchester City, Jack Grealish, Premier League, Pep Guardiola, Liverpool, Arsenal, Champions League