Guardiola blames Grealish’s Man City team-mates for the Englishman’s poor stats

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Pep Guardiola launched an impassioned defence of Jack Grealish’s performances for Manchester City on Friday.

Grealish has been the subject of sustained criticism since becoming the most expensive British player in history when arriving from Aston Villa for £100million last season.

That heightened in midweek when the England international was substituted with City losing against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League before a dramatic late turnaround.

But Guardiola came out fighting for the 27-year-old ahead of Saturday’s Premier League trip to Wolves, insisting that Grealish was left isolated by his team-mates at the Etihad on Wednesday night.

The City manager also believes that an ankle problem picked up last month has slowed the progress the forward had made during an impressive pre-season tour of the United States.

‘I know him and I’m more than happy with what he’s doing,’ Guardiola said. ‘Now it’s just a question of time to get back a little bit of his momentum that he had at the beginning of the season.

‘We were lucky the injury was not worse. In the last game, he was the only one up front who made aggressive runs one against one. But to make assists, he didn’t have his team-mates in the box so we left him isolated.

‘When he went against the full back, only Erling (Haaland) was there. (Ilkay) Gundogan was not there, Kevin (De Bruyne) was not there and they should have been. In the first half, we didn’t make any movements to help the players who had the ball and give him possibilities to make it easier.’

Grealish has registered three goals and three assists across his 28 Premier League appearances since joining Guardiola’s team and the fact that his numbers are not higher — and significantly lower than the likes of Riyad Mahrez — is a source of criticism.

At Villa, he was the main attacking protagonist and talisman, making 32 goal contributions in his last 62 Premier League matches over two campaigns. ‘We didn’t sign him for the incredible goals or assists,’ Guardiola added. ‘It was another reason and when he plays he does it. I want (him) to make goals and I want assists and he does, too.

‘But it’s not about that, it’s about his contribution without the ball and what he can produce for the other ones and the many, many things that he’s able to do.

‘He’s such a nice guy and in the games when he didn’t play, he is the first to help the team and in the training sessions he’s always there.’

Grealish — who is battling for a starting berth in Gareth Southgate’s England team for the World Cup — has always remained acutely aware of the public perception of his displays.

He has in the past referenced a desire to improve his figures, remarks usually made on the back of debates in the media.

Guardiola told him to forget about outside noise. ‘All the time we ask the players to be themselves, don’t think about what the people expect you to be,’ he said.

‘Maybe some players listen and it gives them courage to get better, and they have to know how they affect what is written or what they hear.

‘(But) always I say to them, ‘You know exactly how you played and what we were looking for. Did they (pundits) know the plan? They don’t know it, but you know it, so you don’t have to listen to what people say’.

‘You know, and every one of us knows, if you did your best on this specific day. Some players say, ‘I played bad,’ but afterwards their friends or the media say they played well, and then they are happy. There is no sense in that. You know exactly after the game how you did, and this is the most important thing.’

Julian Alvarez entered the fray as Grealish departed against Dortmund and impressed with added energy on the right-hand side. Signed from River Plate for £14m, the attacker has had to remain patient for opportunities.

‘I know all the highlights are from Erling Haaland, I understand that with his numbers, but I said during pre-season in the United States — this guy (Alvarez) is really good,’ Guardiola said.

‘He helped us increase our intensity. In the training sessions we’ve seen how clinical, fast and clever he is in those moments. We need him in the centre. These guys have to be close to the goal.’

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