It didn’t take long for the boos to start for Jack Grealish as a Manchester City player.
The Tottenham supporters may have at least waited for the game to kick off on Sunday, unlike their Leicester counterparts at Wembley the previous week, but as soon as the £100m signing started running at defenders and being brought down by them there was a fizzing injustice around the ground at the protection he was awarded by the referee.
Unsurprisingly, nobody else on the pitch came close to being fouled more than the five times Grealish was as the former Villa captain continues his remarkable streak; since the start of the 2019/20 campaign he has been fouled 282 times, 68 times more than any other player.
While City will need to protect Grealish, his ability to draw fouls is also a weapon that can help utilise an untapped part of their game. Guardiola’s team is lacking in giants, with few over six foot, as technical players with good ball control and vision are prioritised over the best headers of a ball.
One of the most direct routes of scoring can still be incredibly valuable though – John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias all popped up with important goals last season en route to the two titles City picked up.
Carlos Vicens will be chiefly responsible for how City approach set-pieces this season, having taken over those duties when he stepped up from the role of Under-18s coach in the summer. As well as helping integrate the younger players in the team, the departure of set-piece specialist Nicolas Jover to Arsenal has meant that dead balls are also part of Vicens’s remit.
The arrival of Grealish makes the gig more lucrative, with more opportunities to beat opponents in that way when he plays. However, it also makes it more glaring when the chances are not converted.
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Last season saw City players fouled more in the Premier League than in the previous campaign – an average of 10 per game up from 8 – yet their goals from set-pieces went down from 12 to 17. City scored less across the board as they played much of the year without a recognised striker, but the number was also down as a percentage.
As Guardiola looks for more goals in his team as more players return to full fitness (and, ideally, they sign a marquee centre-forward such as Harry Kane), there will also be a hope that the work put in on the training ground into set-pieces under the direction of Vicens can start to contribute towards a greater tally.
One summer addition could help another to get more out of both their role and the team.