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the perfect 10 Inspirational forces Grealish and De Bruyne both silenced the doubters early in their stellar careers


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Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba exchange words following their Premier League clash on New Year’s Day. Photo: Getty Images

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba exchange words following their Premier League clash on New Year’s Day. Photo: Getty Images

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba exchange words following their Premier League clash on New Year’s Day. Photo: Getty Images

Beyond their boundless creativity there is no doubt that Kevin De Bruyne, with his vision and passing, and Jack Grealish, with his dribbling and ability to run with the ball, are different types of player. And yet they are also not just kindred spirits but part of an increasingly rare breed in the Premier League: the No 10.

Only Aston Villa's Grealish wears the number on his back - for De Bruyne it is 17 for Manchester City and seven for Belgium - but they are both in the tradition of playmaker who can rise above the pell-mell blur of top-flight English football and hurt the opposition, change the pace, even play at their own pace and turn a game.

With Mesut Ozil's departure from Arsenal, another artist has gone. It has been a drain from the Premier League in recent seasons with Philippe Coutinho's departure through to Eden Hazard leaving, along with David Silva and even Christian Eriksen. The fact that only Silva, who joined Real Sociedad, has prospered since quitting England is a surprise and should also not detract from the loss felt by these players going.

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Maybe Dele Alli, in terms of being a creative midfielder, albeit a more direct one, could have been part of that elite band, but he has lost his way at Tottenham Hotspur and desperately needs to be allowed to leave.

Maybe Phil Foden is an heir apparent with Pep Guardiola having marked him out as Silva's replacement before generally using him further forward.

Bruno Fernandes is clearly in that mould, although rather than dictating the play he tends to crop up with wonderfully decisive moments.

We have not seen enough yet of Kai Havertz at Chelsea while Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara does his best work from deeper positions.

But it certainly feels in terms of home-grown players that Grealish is the nearest the Premier League can provide to compare to De Bruyne. He has certainly moved ahead of James Maddison as a decisive creator capable of dictating the outcome of games.

But where have the No 10s gone? During the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, Trevor Brooking, when he was the FA's director of football development, pointed to Spain's Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Silva and lamented England's lack of such midfield creativity with a promise that it would be rectified.

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Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Getty Images

Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Getty Images

Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Getty Images

Even more recently, England's boss Gareth Southgate lamented the lack of a "controller" and while Grealish is not quite that, his belated use in the English team has certainly added a new dimension.

Generally, though, the type of player favoured in the Premier League is more the energetic, athletic - and impressive - Mason Mount than what can be termed a "ball manipulator".

The beauty of De Bruyne, in particular, is that he has all of those qualities and is still, above all, an inventive creator with a range of passing while Grealish is something of a modern spin on a throwback. Both have also had to overcome the doubters and critics earlier in their careers.

With Villa having recovered from the Covid-19 outbreak that has not allowed them to play since January 1, Grealish and De Bruyne meet at the Etihad Stadium tonight and the appreciation is mutual. It is known that Guardiola is an admirer of Grealish, as is Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and had Villa been relegated last season then Manchester may well have been the 25-year-old's destination.

Grealish shared a photograph of himself with a framed De Bruyne shirt at his home, having once said the 29-year-old was "easily the best player in the Premier League . . . everyone knows how good he is and he could walk into any team in the world". Grealish added that he prepared for games by watching clips of his favourite players, including De Bruyne and Coutinho.

As for De Bruyne, before Belgium played England in last autumn's Nations League he was clear when he said: "I rate him very highly. He's somebody I mentioned before, talking to team-mates at City. In England, they talked about creative problems in midfield but he brings that to a team."

In fact, even though Villa have not played since New Year's Day, Grealish has still created more chances in the Premier League than any other player - with 55 he is one ahead of Fernandes and four ahead of De Bruyne. He deserves the billing.

Their numbers are outstanding. Just like the way they play.

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola has warned Aymeric Laporte that it is down to him to prove he can dislodge Manchester City's formidable new centre-half pairing of Ruben Dias and John Stones. Laporte returned to training from a hamstring injury this week and hopes to make his comeback in Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round tie against Cheltenham Town, even if the visit of Aston Villa in the Premier League tonight will come too soon for the Frenchman.

From being City's go-to defender, Laporte finds himself on the outside looking in and Guardiola has challenged the £57m signing to show that he deserves his place back.

"It depends on him," the City manager said. "He has to be focused to come back in the best condition possible and he will get his minutes. After, it depends on performance. It depends on the form of everyone."

© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2021

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