Whether he’s offering his alternative take in response to a Pep Guardiola touchline tirade or fielding questions at a news conference, Riyad Mahrez can usually be relied upon to speak with a welcome frankness.
The Paris-born winger was handed media duties ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League trip to Paris Saint-Germain – a homecoming that went so sensationally well for him last season – and rounded off his briefing with a question from L’Equipe’s correspondent.
Jack Grealish was the chosen subject for the French publication, with Mahrez’s views sought on how the England international had settled in at the Etihad Stadium following his £100million move from Aston Villa.
“Yeah, sure he’s fitting in well. He’s adapted to the way we play. I think the coach and the team are really helping him,” Mahrez said, before relating Grealish’s experience to his own when he joined City from Leicester three years ago.
“He’s playing in a lot of games, of course, which makes it easier to fit in. When I arrived, I didn’t play in all the games straight away.”
Mahrez’s decision to insert himself into the conversation in this way prompted plenty of reactions on social media, where the Algeria star is frequently one of the most discussed City players and boasts an army of loyal followers.
Some interpreted this as a note of passive aggression from one of City’s key performers last season and their top scorer this term in all competitions (four goals), who has not started a Premier League game since the opening weekend defeat at Tottenham.
However, it is undeniable that Mahrez has a very valid point. Grealish has been an ever-present in the top flight for City, making him an outlier among creative attackers signed during the Guardiola era.
No teething problems for Jack
Leroy Sane became a transformative presence on the left wing and ended up becoming City’s record sale when he completed a long-mooted move to Bayern Munich in 2020.
His start to life in Manchester did not immediately suggest this. Where Grealish has started six league games out of six so far and starred on the same flank, Sane played 49 minutes over the course of his first half-dozen Premier League games.
Bernardo Silva is again the toast of the City fanbase after a mini-masterclass in the weekend win over Chelsea, but the twinkle-toed Portugal star made one start and four substitute appearances in his initial six league games in 2017/18 – a return improved upon slightly by Mahrez when he had two starts and four sub outings 12 months later.
All of Sane, Bernardo and Mahrez went on to play pivotal roles in City trophy triumphs, but Grealish taking a leading role straight away puts him in a category of his own.
Of course, Guardiola does not hand appearances out for sentimental reasons – far from it. You do the business or you work out how you might best do said business during a stint on the sidelines.
Grealish marked his home debut versus Norwich City with a goal and provided an assist in the 5-0 win over Arsenal. On his Champions League bow, a scintillating solo strike was the champagne moment of a dizzying 6-3 win over RB Leipzig.
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Even in City’s most underwhelming displays of the campaign – the 1-0 defeat at Spurs and 0-0 draw at home to Southampton – Grealish was the player who looked most likely to make things happen.
Then, in the weekend win over Chelsea, he was magnificent. The former Aston Villa captain made his physicality felt early on and proceed to torment Cesar Azpilicueta.
The sight of the home skipper petulantly plonking himself on Grealish’s back, only to be lifted up as the quicksilver playmaker briefly and successfully tried his hand as a hod carrier, was both utterly bizarre and a moment that captured a defender beaten and out of ideas.,
But the strangest thing of all we’ve seen when it comes to Grealish is seeing quite so much of him. As Mahrez said, this will speed up the settling in process and bodes very well for the pivotal week ahead, along with the months and years to come.
Have you been surprised by Jack Grealish’s smooth start to life at Manchester City? Follow City Is Ours Editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.