Jack Grealish could never have imagined that he was preparing himself for a downfall when he picked Newcastle United’s failed Miguel Almiron while celebrating his first Premier League triumph.
On a personal level, Grealish’s debut season at Manchester City was not a wild success.
But his six Premier League goals dwarfed Almiron’s, giving Grealish the confidence to woo the Newcastle winger the day after City’s dramatic 3-2 victory over former club Aston Villa.
According to a drunken Grealish, City City teammate Riyad Mahrez needed to be substituted “as soon as possible” in this match because he was “playing like Almiron”.
For his part, Almiron brushed off the barb and wished Grealish all the best.
Meanwhile, the terrified City winger sobered up and tried to apologize to the Paraguayan international and admitted he deserved “a big stick from the Newcastle fans”.
Grealish was at least a little spared in that regard as a minor injury kept him out in August when City visited St James’ Park for a match in which Almiron scored his first of 10 goals this season.
Almiron then only scored six in October when it looked like he couldn’t be wrong. Only once in his Premier League career has Grealish scored more than six points in an entire season.
But ahead of Saturday’s return match between City and Newcastle in Manchester, Grealish is in good shape, showing his best under Pep Guardiola.
Since the World Cup, with left-hander Phil Foden struggling for fitness, Grealish has two goals and four assists in the league. Taking into account the cup competitions, he has two more assists on his account.
Those eight goals in 16 games (one every 134 minutes) compare to Grealish’s 11 goals in 55 (one every 343 minutes) in the first 16 months of his City career.
However, its rise is no easier to explain than the rise of Almiron.
After the World Cup, looking at slightly more granular numbers at 90 points, Grealish actually noticed a decline in chances created, passes into the box, touchdowns and touchdowns in the box. The very slight increase in expected transfers does not account for these improved aid rates.
However, as long as Grealish continues to perform well in the big games, scoring goals against Manchester United and Arsenal and providing assists against Chelsea and Arsenal, Guardiola is unlikely to mind.
At least City have alternative options if this run proves unsustainable. They’re coming into Saturday’s last big game on top – unlike the stuttering Newcastle and their top scorer regressing to average.
Almiron outperformed his xG by 3.3 in that inexplicable October but was otherwise almost exactly in line with his expected performance for the remainder of the season.
To make matters worse for Newcastle, Almiron’s teammates failed to even do that after the World Cup.
In all competitions, only four Premier League teams have scored fewer goals per game than Newcastle (0.9) during this period, with the Magpies fifth in xG per game (1.8).
Eddie Howe’s team should have scored about twice as many goals as they currently have, trailing their overall xG by 25.6 to 12.6. Chelsea are next worst at 9.4, followed by Everton at 6.3.
While Newcastle have only won five of their 14 matches since the restart, they have come out on top on xG in 11 of them.
It doesn’t look like Almiron is the problem, but another run like the one at the start of the season could be needed to get Newcastle back on track.
Instead, confidence is once again on Grealish’s side, and this time the Englishman is ready to talk on the pitch after failing in a title match last May.