Opinion: Grealish proves he belongs in the Champions League with dazzling debut

Opinion: Grealish proves he belongs in the Champions League with dazzling debut

As a £100m player, Jack Grealish will be expected to perform on the biggest stage for Manchester City and stages don’t get much bigger than the Champions League. The 26-year-old will therefore be relieved that his debut in the competition went so well, scoring and assisting in a 6-3 win over RB Leipzig.

Indeed, Grealish was among the most impressive on the pitch as City started their Champions League on the front foot against a visiting team willing to go toe-to-toe with them. In the end, the Premier League champions just had too much firepower for RB Leipzig to handle with so much of City’s attacking play flowing through Grealish.

In midfield and attack, only Kevin de Bruyne (55) had more touches of the ball than Grealish (42) while nobody managed more shots on target. He has very quickly become an attacking hub for Manchester City on the left side and might have produced even more had Pep Guardiola not withdrawn him with 10 minutes remaining, when the match opened up further.

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“I loved it. I’ve been waiting a while,” Grealish reflected on making his Champions League debut afterwards. “The past few weeks, I couldn’t wait for this game. It’s a great night. It was one of those games. It had absolutely everything. In the end we’re delighted to get the win against a good team full of energy and young players. I’m delighted to come away with the three points – and the goal and assist.”

Grealish also made some charming comments about hearing the Champions League music for the first time as a player. At 26, Grealish is somewhat late in playing his first season as a Champions League player. For context, 18-year-old Jude Bellingham is embarking on his second season in the competition while Phil Foden, another England teammate, made his 26th Champions League appearance against RB Leipzig.

However, everything about Grealish’s display in the win over RB Leipzig suggests he belongs in the Champions League. This is a competition made for players like him, players who have the conviction and courage to decide a match. Players who sparkle with the spotlight on them.

And yet Guardiola still wasn’t entirely satisfied with Grealish’s performance, pulling the England international over to the touchline after one RB Leipzig goal to forcefully make a point amid a lot of hand gestures. It was a moment reminiscent of when Guardiola lectured Raheem Sterling on the pitch just moments after City had won the 2019 FA Cup final.

“That was about defensive work,” Grealish admitted. “I won’t go into it too much because he might want the same tactics for the weekend. That’s what the manager’s like. He’s always wanting more, defensively and offensively. Obviously he’s someone I’m going to listen to after everything he’s done in the game.”

This was most likely just Guardiola being Guardiola, with the Catalan known for his obsessive focus on the details even in victory, but the interaction between the City boss and Grealish hints at how there is even more to come from the £100m man even after a strong start to life in sky blue.

Grealish has two goals and two assists in the five matches he has featured in for Manchester City this season, yet it still feels as if he is settling into his new surroundings. He is playing within himself, which says a lot about the level he is capable of reaching. This is just the start and Grealish better get used to the sound of the Champions League music ringing in his ears.

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