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Pep Guardiola praised Jack Grealish for ‘having a perfect start’ at Manchester City, but is not sure the playmaker is fit to play against former club Aston Villa on Wednesday,

Grealish has appeared in 15 of City’s 21 appearances since joining club Villa in a record British £ 100million transfer from Aston Villa in August, starting 13 of them.

The 26-year-old was an unused replacement in the derby victory over Manchester United on November 6 and has not played since due to a blow suffered by England.

He resumed training on Monday and will be watched ahead of Wednesday’s clash at Villa Park, where he spent 20 years – seven as a regular first-team player – before joining City.

Grealish has a lot of work to do to repay his hefty price tag, but Guardiola has been pleased with the impact the attacking midfielder has so far when he’s fit and available.

“He started off perfectly,” Guardiola said of Grealish at Tuesday’s pre-game press conference.

“It’s easy because of our English players and the other guys here are nice people. He played well but needs more time to settle down.”

Grealish has scored two goals and assisted three more this quarter, while his tally of seven big chances created is the most common of any City player alongside Joao Cancelo.

However, the 3.15 chances Grealish has created every 90 minutes in the Premier League this season are lower than the 3.34 managed in his last campaign with Villa.

He also tries less dribbling (3.39 against 4.53) for City and suffers fewer faults (from 4.53 to 2.66), a sign that he is less attacking his opponents.

Guardiola attributes this to the contrasting styles of City and their upcoming opponents Villa.

“If you analyze the games, he didn’t play badly. The way we play and our expectations are different from Villa,” Guardiola said.

“He did incredibly well at Villa. His commitment to the club to stay and get promoted was incredible.

“Now he has returned from the international break injured. Hopefully he comes back and gradually regains his form.

“We have six, seven months ahead of us. I don’t think we’ll have to wait until next season to see the best Jack Grealish – I’m thinking about this season.”

Taking stock of other recent City absentees, Guardiola confirmed Kevin De Bruyne returned a negative coronavirus test but has yet to train.

Phil Foden remains dubious having trained only once, while Ferran Torres is absent for a long time and Aymeric Laporte is suspended.

“Everyone who has had coronavirus says it drains them and Kevin needs time to show his form,” Guardiola said.

“Phil and Jack are still in the same situation. Maybe tomorrow they can play but not for many minutes – we’ll see after they practice today.

“The rest, we only have 14 or 15 players. But I have a lot of confidence in this team. If one is absent, another comes in.

“December is the toughest month of the year for us and we’re in trouble because we have so few players available.”

Wednesday’s game at Villa Park will be the first managerial meeting between Guardiola and new Villa boss Steven Gerrard.

Guardiola has lost just three of his 64 Premier League games against English managers, against Roy Hodgson (December 2018), Frank Lampard (June 2020) and Graham Potter (May 2021).

Gerrard has won his first two games at Villa since joining Rangers – no manager in club history has won their first three games – and Guardiola expects a tough test in the Midlands.

“He manages in the Premier League, so he’s a good manager already,” Guardiola said. “I don’t believe there is a manager in the Premier League, even in the league, who is not good.

“They can train good players at good clubs to get the titles. There are amazing managers in every aspect and maybe they win titles because they are lucky enough to make a good team.

“I can imagine that with a new manager everyone comes forward for training sessions and methodology to convince the manager.

“They had two good results against tough sides like Brighton and Crystal Palace. It will be the toughest game possible tomorrow.”


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