Pep Guardiola believes Jack Grealish has adapted to Manchester City better than even the player believes following his high-profile move from Aston Villa.

Grealish can expect a frosty reception from his hometown club if he features on Wednesday night, with many supporters upset at anything from the manner of his departure and innocuous interviews after the move to his perceived role in the drop in form that led to the sacking of Dean Smith.

If the Etihad faithful have welcomed Grealish 90 miles up the country, it has not been a seamless transition to life under Pep Guardiola; the 26-year-old was benched for the Manchester derby before suffering an injury with England that is likely to deny him a start on his return to Villa, and the player himself admitted in an interview ahead of the game that he has struggled with his new environment.

City’s manager would like Grealish to be more selfish in the final third but was very complimentary about his start - particularly given the number of players who have struggled in their first year under him.

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“My opinion is he’s played much better than maybe he believes,” said Guardiola.

“Maybe at Villa, everything started with him and he was free, you know, now he's in a new position and maybe has not been so determined or so clinical in the final third. Maybe because he respects his mates, maybe because it's a new environment, and that's normal, it’s a process. He needs time.

“All the players who come here, for the first season, always struggle. But what he sees and what he has to do, is so easy for him with the quality he has. Just be free here and be who you are, that's all, no more.

“I don't say to the players what they have to do – they play. We have a map and a plan and it depends on opponents, how we have to attack and defend, but after that they have to take the decisions and they have to be fully free.

“When they get the ball close to the box, my friend, you decide whatever you want. That's why you are Jack Grealish and not another player. They have to play and make their moments.”

Guardiola insisted that any hostile reception would not deter him from picking Grealish - any boos would be a sign of love for him, he said - although the indication is that upcoming matches against Watford or RB Leipzig are more realistic dates for the forward to return to the starting lineup.

A squad ‘emergency’ that sees a number of players ruled out or doubtful means that Grealish could come off the bench though, and the decision to give James McAtee and Coke Palmer 90 minutes each with the Under-23s hints at more senior involvement at Villa Park.

City's coach has had to call on Grealish so far this campaign as a result of injuries elsewhere, and suggested that any mixed reviews over the player's start may come from him not being offered the same level of protection that other new signings were.

"With Bernardo and Riyad, these two examples, it was maybe not a struggle for them, as I did not let them play much. But I think some players need more time to adapt," he said.

"I remember when Raheem came here with Manuel, he didn’t play much and after, when he started to play with us he went woooosh – he started to fly. Sometimes it's the environment, a new house, private life, but not just Jack – all the players.

"Sometimes you have all your life living in one place and then you come to a different place and the expectations are huge, in terms of what you have to do. But play bad? Absolutely not. I didn't see one game yet where he did not play with the quality he has."