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Doku’s quick start at Man City could be bad news for Grealish

Jeremy Doku hasn’t wasted much time to make a good first impression on Manchester City. Indeed, the Belgian winger, who joined last season’s Treble winners from Rennes in a £55.5m transfer this season, scored his first Premier League goal against West Ham on Saturday and also caught the eye on his debut against Fulham before that.

“When you buy a young player like him for many years (contract), we have to be patient,” said Pep Guardiola about Doku’s impact. “We cannot expect, I didn’t expect the second game for City to play like he did today. The way he played today, I don’t remember from a long time ago something like that.”

Doku already looks the part as a City player and that could be bad news for Jack Grealish. The English winger was a key part of the team that won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup last season, but his position is now under threat. Grealish might have to up his level to keep Doku at bay.

Manchester City evolved their squad after the summer transfer window. Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez departed the Etihad Stadium after winning three major trophies last season, leaving Guardiola with fewer options in the attacking positions. As the 2023/24 campaign kicked off, City’s squad looked light.

This is why Doku was targeted. The 21-year-old enjoyed an excellent 2022/23 season for Rennes, scoring six goals in 29 Ligue 1 appearances (13 of them starts). His skill set made him perfect for Manchester City’s style of play, as has been demonstrated by how quickly the Belgian has settled in at his new club.

Guardiola likes his wide players to control the game. This is why Mahrez was such an important figure for Manchester City and it’s why Grealish has been a perfect fit for Guardiola’s team. He is technically capable enough to slow down possession play when required, but also to quicken it up in a one-on-one situation.

Doku has the same qualities, but there has been a particular sharpness to his decision-making in the final third for City. Guardiola highlighted this after the win over West Ham which Doku scored in, commenting: “(I said) use your quality as a winger. One against one, one against two; go. If you don’t have the feeling, pass back to Josko (Gvardiol) and play again. Today was from the first minute incredible, aggressive, great determination, he arrived many times to the byline.”

City, who have won five out of five matches so far, have yet to be truly tested in the Premier League this season, but they will soon face a testing period with fixtures against Arsenal, Brighton, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool starting in October. Doku and Grealish will likely be rotated, particularly with Champions League fixtures mixed in there as well.

The injury to Kevin de Bruyne, who will be missing until the end of 2023, also means Phil Foden might be deployed more frequently in a central role, freeing up more minutes for Doku and Grealish in the wide areas. There will be enough game time to go around with Manchester City expected to once again compete on all fronts this season.

Nonetheless, Grealish must embrace the challenge presented by the arrival of Doku at the Etihad Stadium. He must look at this as another opportunity to improve. He has made great strides since joining Manchester City from Aston Villa two years ago and this could push him forward once more. If that doesn’t happen, Doku will take his place in the team. City benefit in either scenario.

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