Jack Grealish was the best player on the pitch when Aston Villa drew 2-2 at Old Trafford last weekend. No-one else on either side could have scored that beautiful goal; very few players in the Premier League could have. Reports of his current buyout clause range from £30million to £70million. But just how much is Grealish worth?

As he picked the ball up on the left of the area, he already knew what he was going to do. His opponent Andreas Pereira had no idea. Earlier in the game – in a similar position – Grealish went to the byline and pulled the ball back with his left foot and on another occasion played a slide rule pass to his overlapping fullback.

A cunningly laid trap or fateful coincidence? What came before made little difference to the majesty of the goal Grealish was about to score, but was vital in creating the doubt that enabled him to do so.

The Villa midfielder didn’t look at the ball until the final point of contact – the whipped shot into the postage stamp located at the corner of post and bar. Before then he took three almost imperceptible touches, focusing his gaze not on the ball but avidly on Pereira’s feet, knowing the Brazilian would make the first move. And at the merest hint of motion from the midfielder towards the byline, Grealish made his own move, cutting in on his right foot to score one of the memorable Old Trafford goals, in front of the Stretford End.

Jack the lad – revitalised and much improved – is back.

First impressions are hard to shake, particularly when they are entrenched through a series of tabloid news stories that support the initial suspicion. But don’t be fooled by the slicked back hair, fake tan and low-slung socks that remain: this is a very different Grealish to the one relegated from the Premier League in 2016.

He’s still the cocky, brash, well-preened Brummie icon. But now, instead of using his sculpted calves to strut the length of Broad Street, he’s using them to glide past defenders and put them on their arses, like a Chris Waddle of old or a George Best of older.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was predictably asked about rumours linking the 24-year-old with a move to United post-game and gave the stock manager response of not being able to “talk too much about other teams’ players”, while simultaneously eulogising over him. Pep Guardiola has described him as “exceptional”, while everyone else remains bemused by his exclusion from the latest England squads. Speculation linking him with a move away will roll on in line with the exponential improvement in the maturity and calibre of his performances.

Villa use him in a roaming role, starting from the left. It’s not his most effective position or the one he wants to be playing, but one that utilises his talents in the way that serves Dean Smith’s side best: a team that lacks creativity needs their most inventive asset as close to goal as possible. But despite the position he plays for Villa, his aesthetics and the perception they’ve created, he’s much less a show pony than a conductor.

He’s not quite a Jorginho or Fabinho, but still the player capable of controlling the speed and direction of the football his team plays. A Big Six side would likely use him as a number eight, a position from which he could use his dribbling expertise to build attacks from deep and not necessarily deliver the final ball, but more often the pass before that killer blow.

To Villa, the question of how much Grealish is worth and how much Premier League football is worth are one and the same. With him they sit 15th in the table, one point above the relegation zone. Without his three goals and four assists – which if anything belittles the worth of his all-round game – they would be level on points with Norwich in 19th.

Letting him go in January would be tantamount to football treason. He’s more Villa than Harry Kane is Spurs or Trent Alexander-Arnold is Liverpool. Grealish is the lifeblood of his football club, and he – along with the fans – will fear what would happen should he up sticks and follow the lure of Champions League football – where his talents belong.

Tottenham have come closest to luring Grealish away, with the man himself admitting his head had been turned in the summer of 2018 with an offer on the table from Spurs. But when the north London side were unwilling to increase their £25million offer to £32million, the deal fell through and Grealish remained at his boyhood club.

If Villa now offered Grealish to any club with the means to spend £32million on the Birmingham-born midfielder, he’d be gone before you could say “Peaky Blinders”. He’s a ready-made leader with extraordinary talent, now without the can he do it in the Premier League? caveat or previously lingering doubts over his commitment to his profession. This is a footballer capable of more, but understandably tied to the club and community that have given him so much. He won’t be there forever, Villans, so just enjoy him while you can.

Oh sorry, what’s he worth? F*** knows…a lot.

Will Ford

 

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As ever, this represents our estimation of Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. And we feel like we know him well. Numbers in brackets pertain to this ladder from October…

 

1 (2) Harry Kane
Twelve goals and five assists in eight qualifying games. His goal against Kosovo saw him become the first England player to score in every game of a qualifying campaign and it also took him back to the top of this ladder, mostly because he has never grabbed somebody by the throat in a canteen. Or at least he has never been caught grabbing somebody by the throat in a canteen.

 

2 (1) Raheem Sterling
Oh you daft bugger. There is no defending that. He is still England’s second-best source of goals and best source of running really fast and scaring the sh*t out of full-backs, mind.

 

3 (5) Harry Maguire
The only player to feature in all 720 minutes of European qualifying. And yet he still looks about half a second from dropping a bo**ock and a full second slower than most strikers he faces.

 

4 (4) Jordan Pickford
His place is safer than his hands.

 

5 (6) Marcus Rashford
Three goals in his last three England games as part of a really encouraging return to form. We would be astonished if Rashford is not in every England squad for which he is fit until the end of the next decade at least…

 

6 (3) Jordan Henderson
Two victories in his absence have damaged his cause a little, but it still feels like Henderson + 2 in that central midfield.

 

7 (7) Trent Alexander-Arnold
Remarkably, that’s the first time he has started back-to-back England games. Even more remarkably, ‘he’s yet to produce a performance for his country which doesn’t look like this one did – distracted, inaccurate, lacking in the locked-in intensity which seems as standard at Liverpool’ (and I absolutely agree with Seb Stafford-Bloor).

 

8 (10) Ben Chilwell
Perhaps those three assists against Montenegro – and solid defensive performance against Kosovo – will put an end to Gareth Southgate’s lingering and needless flirtation with Danny Rose. Chilwell is and should remain England’s first-choice left-back.

 

9 (18) Harry Winks
Six England caps, six England wins. And a goal and a man-of-the-match performance against Kosovo. It might well be Henderson, Winks + 1 with Declan Rice hopefully sidelined until he learns some of the basics of defensive midfield play.

 

10 (13) John Stones
‘Needs to play football. Absolutely needs to play football,’ is what I wrote last month. Now back in the Manchester City side and an England recall duly followed. 

 

11 (16) Nick Pope
Confirmation that he is England’s No. 2. And a clean sheet is lovely.

 

12 (17) Joe Gomez
What has become very clear is that Southgate has picked his four centre-halves and Gomez is on that list despite not playing a great deal of Premier League football. Luckily for him, Liverpool have an awful lot of games coming up. He might still be the big man.

 

13 (8) Jadon Sancho
His form has dipped for Borussia Dortmund
and he failed to pad his stats against Montenegro; just one assist from 90 minutes on the wing is not a compelling return from a 7-0 victory. Right now, he has slipped some way behind Rashford.

 

14 (15) Tyrone Mings
And there’s centre-half No. 4, who has (slightly awkwardly) claimed another cap and another clean sheet. He is literally the big man.

 

15 (9) Ross Barkley
It’s telling that he has played more minutes in this qualifying campaign than any other midfielder bar Henderson and yet almost nobody thinks he should start for England. Will he eventually be ejected like a stockier Ryan Bertrand? The initials are a clue.

 

16 (11) Declan Rice
As I wrote last month: ‘He is only 20, so there are caveats, but right now he looks far from good enough to anchor that England midfield. Still, we persuaded him not to be Irish anymore, so his squad place is probably safe for the foreseeable.’ We wanted him to be so much better than Eric Dier; he isn’t.

 

17 (12) Mason Mount
He has played a part in England’s last six games so he is clearly integrated into this England squad. Unfortunately for him, he has started twice and struggled twice. Fortunately, he can do this from the bench…

 

18 (14) Kieran Trippier
Called up but then left on the bench. It could be worse; he could be Kyle Walker.

 

19 (20) Tammy Abraham
His first England goal and confirmation – were it needed – that he is Southgate’s first-choice back-up to Kane.

 

20 (22) Fabian Delph
Even grown men need a comfort blanket. Let it go, people, let it go…

 

21 (19) Danny Rose
Clinging onto a place in the squad but for how long? Until Luke Shaw gets and stays fit, you should think. Right now, Rose is holding off Aaron Cresswell and Matt Targett in the battle to be the left-sided fireguard with the thinner chocolate coating.

 

22 (32) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Back-to-back England starts for the first time since March 2018, when he was set to start in England’s World Cup midfield before injury struck. “We’ve a huge belief in him,” said Southgate. “Whether it’s as a midfield player – where he’s excellent with or without the ball, provides a goalscoring threat, works hard for the team and presses well – or a wide player or a forward player, we’ve got huge belief in him.” And that versatility might well be what keeps in this 23 ahead of more vaunted competition.

 

23 (23) Tom Heaton
The old man completes the 23. For now.

 

24 (21) Callum Hudson-Odoi
Reclaimed and then lost his Chelsea place, while his 59 wasteful, hesitant minutes against Kosovo suggested that he might be better getting some more England experience with the Under-21s this season while he searches for his form.

 

25 (24) Callum Wilson
Nobody takes three strikers for a one-striker system. Especially when the third striker on the list has stopped scoring.

 

26 (26) James Maddison
Most chances created by Englishmen this season:
Trent Alexander-Arnold (42)
Jack Grealish (25)
James Maddison (24)
Mason Mount (23)
Raheem Sterling (22)

Sorry James, but we don’t think Gareth likes the cut of your gib. Or the gib of…

 

27 (35) Jack Grealish
Though at least Southgate hinted that Grealish could be the next cab off the attacking midfielder rank. That’s progress.

 

28 (25) Kyle Walker
Sip sliding away. Slip-sliding a-way.

 

29 (31) Fikayo Tomori
They definitely didn’t bring him on for a few minutes to claim him from Nigeria (oh yes they did). But most importantly for this ladder, he was in the squad ahead of the falling Michael Keane.

 

30 (30) Dean Henderson
England’s…No. 4. England’s, England’s No. 4.

 

31 (29) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Clearly, Southgate is not a fan of a 90s-style full-back.

 

32 (34) Dele Alli
Back in the Tottenham side at least. Shame it’s a really poor Tottenham side.

 

33 (27) Michael Keane
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

34 (28) Jesse Lingard
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

35 (33) Eric Dier
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

36 (40) Phil Foden
We will surely see him in a (senior) England shirt soon, but first Pep Guardiola needs to give him more than Carabao Cup football.

 

37 (NE) Aaron Ramsdale
The Bournemouth goalkeeper is making a compelling case for a long-term battle with Henderson.

 

38 (36) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Love the player, hate the injury.

 

39 (37) Luke Shaw
Love the player, hate the injury. And the body type.

 

40 (42) Dwight McNeil

 

41 (41) Rob Holding
42 (38) Angus Gunn
43 (39) Ryan Sessegnon
44 (43) Max Aarons
45 (NE) John Lundstram
46 (NE) Harvey Barnes
47 (44) Reiss Nelson
48 (45) James Tarkowski
49 (47) James Ward-Prowse
50 (50) Phil Neville

 

Sarah Winterburn

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists he feels no pressure to win the Club World Cup.

In the wake of their 3-1 victory over Manchester City which opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League, Pep Guardiola hailed the Reds as “the best team in the world right now”.

Liverpool will get the chance to prove that – and lift a trophy they have never won before – in Qatar next month.

However, Klopp is not concerned about being the man to bring home that particular piece of silverware for the first time.

“I didn’t think about that. I’m not someone who has to be the first on the moon or the first winning the World Cup with Liverpool, but when we are there then we will try with all we have,” he told fifa.com.

“I don’t feel any pressure. I see it as an absolute opportunity as you don’t often have the chance to play for it.

“You have to win the Champions League (to qualify) as the European team, so that already makes it special.”

Liverpool’s participation in Doha has caused more than its fair share of problems with the club faced with fielding two separate sides on two different continents within 24 hours of each other as they also have a Carabao Cup quarter-final to play.

With the club in pole position to secure their first league title in 30 years everything else seems to be taking a back seat but Klopp said when they go to Qatar – a trip which will give their domestic rivals a chance to reduce their advantage while they are away – they will be focused on the task in hand.

“When we go there, we will be prepared and looking forward to it,” added Klopp.

“The boys want to play it, so it will be very interesting, and it will feel big for us, 100 per cent.”

 

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Jurgen Klopp has hit back at comments from Pep Guardiola accused Liverpool forward Sadio Mane of “diving”.

Guardiola was speaking after a dramatic day for the leading duo, who both scored late goals as they came from behind to win – City beating Southampton 2-1 at home and Liverpool winning 2-1 away to Aston Villa.

Mane scored Liverpool’s winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time at Villa Park, but had seen yellow for simulation in the first half of the game.

Guardiola told Sky Sports: “Sometimes [Mane] is diving, sometimes he has this talent to score incredible goals in the last minute. He’s a talent.”

The comments have been interpreted as an early attempt at mind games from Guardiola ahead of their clash with Liverpool on Sunday and Klopp responded in his press conference on Monday by defending Mane.

“I am not in a Man City mood at the moment. I am 100% sure he only talks about Sadio,” Klopp said.

“Don’t know how he could have known about the incident so soon after the game. Sadio is not a diver! Contact at Villa, no penalty but was contact. Not like he jumped over.

“I am absolutely not in the mood to talk about Man City. Genk or us, whatever but not Man City.”

 

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Gary Neville thinks Brendan Rodgers has the managerial ability to take over at Manchester City when Pep Guardiola’s time at the helm eventually comes to an end.

The Northern Irishman led his Leicester City side to an impressive 9-0 victory on the road at Southampton on Friday night, a win that moved them temporarily second in the Premier League table.

And that result has led Neville to talk about the former Liverpool boss as a potential successor to Guardiola.

“I think if you look at what he achieved at Liverpool and then Celtic and now what he is doing at Leicester, we always talk about international coaches having philosophies and values, but he improves teams and plays great football,” Neville told Sky Sports.

“He is quite innovative and he does seem to be a great coach, the players enjoy working with him, and I’m asking the question now, why wouldn’t he be seen as a coach of one of the big clubs?

“You look at Manchester City changing to Pep Guardiola and you probably won’t see Brendan Rodgers‘ name linked with that job because people at the club will be thinking, maybe, someone else.

“But why not? If you look at what he’s done in terms of the football he plays and the improvement he has on players on the pitch.”

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John Stones has explained why he received a telling off from Pep Guardiola during Manchester City’s 5-1 victory over Atalanta on Tuesday night.

Raheem Sterling struck three times in 11 minutes after Sergio Aguero had earlier netted twice to cancel out Ruslan Malinovskyi’s penalty opener at the Etihad Stadium.

The result took City five points clear at the top of Group C and within touching distance of the last 16 with three games still to play.

Guardiola called for Stones to come on just before the interval when Rodri went down with a hamstring injury.

However, the England international still needed to adjust his shin pads before climbing off the bench which seemed to incense Guardiola, who slammed a seat in his rage.

Stones told BT Sport: “I had them on but I just needed to fix them up properly. Time is of the essence and that’s what he wanted.”

Despite that, it was a good night for Guardiola, who feels City now have one foot in the knockout stages after another important victory.

“It was a really tough game against a really tough opponent. It was an incredible effort because they have a lot of quality,” Guardiola said.

“That is why I am so satisfied with the result. Three more points in the next game and we will be in the next stage.”

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England manager Gareth Southgate does not believe Phil Foden needs to leave Manchester City on loan in order to continue his development.

The 19-year-old was described as the “most talented player I’ve ever seen” by City boss Pep Guardiola in the summer, but is struggling to break into a star-studded side at the Etihad Stadium.

He has played just 102 minutes this season – with 90 of those coming in a Carabao Cup game at Preston – meaning Southgate has overlooked him for his latest Three Lions squad this week. And the media reacted predictably.

As the season kicks into full swing, with City competing on four fronts, Southgate expects Foden’s game time to increase and has warned of the possible pitfalls of leaving on loan.

“Phil is still physically developing and I know Pep recognises the quality of the player, but equally the quality of the opposition around him,” the England boss said.

“So I’m sure in the coming months that game time will increase as the number of matches racks up.

“I think you should always assess those things halfway through the season and towards the end of the season to see how much football they’ve got, and then I’m sure they’ll make a decision on what’s right for him as a player.

“It isn’t always as straightforward as to go on loan because that is fraught with some difficulties as well at times with the style of play, different training regime, everything around him.

“But I know those discussions will be going on at Manchester City at the top.”

Southgate’s latest squad is packed with youngsters as Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori has earned a maiden call and is joined by his team-mate Tammy Abraham.

Those two are getting regular action at Stamford Bridge under Frank Lampard and are getting the experiences to prime them for international football.

Given Foden’s tender age and the players he is competing with for a shirt at City, Southgate is prepared to be patient with him – and thinks others should be too.

“It’s a little bit harder to get in the side at those bigger clubs, but when you’re in, as the Chelsea boys are now, there’s a great opportunity to play important matches, (gain) big-match experience,” Southgate added.

“So, I’d probably try to calm Phil’s situation, because there’s a lot of expectation around him and I think that’s a huge pressure for a young player potentially.

“At the moment, a lot of his game has been forged with our junior team.

“That’s how he’s appeared on the scene, so we’re really happy with his progress.

“His mentality when playing with the under-21s in the last match was great. He needs those matches.

“He needs that stamina and that game time, and we think it’s right to put him on.”

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Pep Guardiola does not believe Manchester City’s opponents are beaten before they arrive at the Etihad Stadium.

The champions have won 39 of their last 44 Premier League matches at home – a record they will hope to improve when they host Wolves on Sunday.

Such a statistic could intimidate visitors, but Guardiola claims that is not the case and that his side’s good results are down to their own hard work.

The City boss said: “My feeling is no (there is no intimidation factor).

“I cannot imagine when teams before the game are not thinking, ‘We can do it’.

“I know the managers and how competitive all of them are, how they’ll try to seduce the players and say, ‘We can do it’. They’ll be thinking, ‘We can go and do a good game’.

“Sometimes we don’t win but when we do it is because we do something good.

“We have to try it against a team we know quite well. We have played many times against Nuno Espirito Santo’s team in Carabao Cups and leagues and other stuff.”

Guardiola is proud of his side’s home record and feels that has underpinned their title successes of the past two seasons.

He said: “In some moments you need luck to win games, to make a lot of points, win titles.

“But we have effort and very good things, so I’m proud of the the effort and the way we have done it.

“Our first season (at City) was not consistent. We had problems. I didn’t expect it when I landed here. I thought at home we would be strong and away tough but it was completely the opposite in the first season.

“But since then, the second season and third season and this season as well, we have been strong at home. To try to win titles you have to be strong at home or you have no chance.”

Fernandinho is set to continue in central defence for City alongside Nicolas Otamendi, with John Stones and Aymeric Laporte still out injured.

It will be the 34-year-old Brazil midfielder’s third game in just over a week, but Guardiola is confident he can handle it.

He said: “He didn’t have many minutes in his legs before these three games. Except the last part of last season – in the previous seasons – he’s played every three days over 11 months. So I think he can do it.”

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