Talking Tactics

How Doku and Grealish are pushing each other to new levels

By Adrian Clarke 10 Nov 2023
Jeremy Doku-Jack Grealish

Adrian Clarke compares Man City's brilliant left-wingers ahead of Sunday's trip to Chelsea

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 12.

Player analysis: Jeremy Doku and Jack Grealish (Man City)

Doku and Grealish are in scintillating form, pushing one another to raise standards in their battle to play on the left side of Manchester City’s attack.

Club-record signing Grealish created seven chances, including an assist, against Young Boys in the UEFA Champions League this week.

This followed on from his outstanding performance in the Manchester derby.

Doku has been equally brilliant in recent outings.

Mesmerising opponents with his outrageous dribbling skills, while also delivering quality end product, the 21-year-old Belgian scored one goal and provided four assists in Saturday's 6-1 win over AFC Bournemouth.

His form has been fantastic, but will it be enough to earn him a start at Chelsea this Sunday?

The division’s best dribbler

Doku has shown no signs of inhibition whatsoever since his arrival, displaying great confidence right from the off.

His speed, trickery and body swerves have tied a series of defenders in knots.

Doku is attempting and completing more successful dribbles than any other player in the league this season, and is giving Man City a fresh dimension.

Most dribbles completed in PL per 90 23/24
Player Dribbles per 90
Jeremy Doku 4.90
Eberechi Eze 3.82
Luca Koleosho 3.54

When rival teams set up in a low and compact defensive block, the champions now have an individual who can conjure up space to penetrate those lines.

His footwork and willingness to try and take the ball around opponents has created a chaos factor that opens gaps.

In the past we have seen Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling offer similar things for Man City but, as these ball-carrying stats (below) indicate, Doku is a unique talent.

Most ball carries in PL per 90 23/24*
Player Ball carries per 90
Jeremy Doku 30
Bernardo Silva 23
Kaoru Mitoma 18
James Maddison 18
Dejan Kulusevski 18
Gabriel Martinelli 18

*Out of players with a minimum of 450 PL minutes

Grealish, who has not played the requisite 450 minutes to feature on this table, averages 25 ball carries per 90, so is closer to Doku than most players in terms of style.

But what is clear is that very few carry the ball as often or with as much menace as Doku.

There is very little to choose between Doku and Grealish when it comes to chance creation and shots.

They also boast near-identical records for touches inside the opposition box, ranking fourth and seventh respectively across the Premier League.

Doku v Grealish stats per 90 23/24
  Doku Grealish
Shots 2.72 3.05
Shots in box 1.81 2.44
Chances created open play 2.54 2.44
Big chances created 0.54 0.61
Touches in opp. box 9.80 9.15

Where they differ is in Doku’s ability to trick his way past defenders.

He goes beyond his man more than anyone else, while Grealish is more of a ball carrier who opts to release incisive passes or shots at the end of his runs.

Grealish is also more reliable in possession, and less likely to relinquish the ball than Doku. In the toughest tests, this is a trait which will appeal to Pep Guardiola.

Doku v Grealish stats 23/24
  Doku Grealish
Minutes played 496 295
Dribbles attempted/90 8.17 2.14
Dribbles completed/90 4.90 1.53
Passing accuracy % 84.29 88.44
Poss. lost/90 15.97 12.51

Right now Grealish is arguably more effective in City’s more competitive matches, when opponents show greater ambition to attack, therefore leaving space for Guardiola’s side to exploit.

On counters, transitions and from quick switches of play, Grealish’s decision-making is exceptionally sound.

Doku is a rawer talent, with greater potential to unlock teams who put everybody behind the ball. His explosive turn of speed from a standing start is a fabulous weapon in those matches.

He has been clocked at 34.99km/hr this season, with Grealish at 29.23km/hr. For context though, Grealish did register a top speed of 34.1km/hr last season, so the major difference between them is likely down to game time.

So, who plays against Chelsea?

Most of Grealish’s starts this season have come in away matches, so he is perhaps the slight favourite to start on Sunday.

The Blues’ desire to play on the front foot may also suit his counter-attacking qualities up against Reece James.

But Doku’s form is so good that he will be hard to leave out, and there is a possibility we may see Doku and Grealish in the same starting XI this weekend.

In Guardiola’s 3-2-4-1 formation, there is room for two attacking midfielders to play behind Erling Haaland, so do not be surprised if Grealish is handed one of those roles.

With John Stones picking up an injury in midweek, Bernardo Silva or Mateo Kovacic could be moved into a deeper role, freeing up a spot for Grealish further forward.

We saw this briefly against Young Boys in midweek, where Grealish and Doku linked well and rotated positions during the final 10 minutes.

This would solve a real quandary for Guardiola, who must be thrilled with the performance levels of his two left-sided forwards.

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