By Thomas O’Brien
Having been banned for three games after picking up a ban in his first game under Steve Bruce, it’s been a slow transition into the new Villa manager’s plans for Jack Grealish. With Villa dropping a level this season, Villa’s Championship campaign was seen as a real chance for the England U-21 player to make his mark and create reality beyond the hype.
[Grealish] only has one assist registered all season.
Grealish’s talent has left him subject to much scrutiny and an equal amount of criticism, some of it unfair. For example, Neil Warnock recently criticised the midfielder for pressuring the ref to send off his players, yet statistics showed that in fact Grealish was the most fouled player in the Championship, as he is seen as the Villa’s major creative force and targeted by defenders because of it.
However last week’s games against Brighton and Cardiff illustrate Grealish’s time at the Villa so far in a nutshell – fleeting moments of brilliance, marred by wider inconsistency, as his play is not always clinical.
Grealish’s passing accuracy is high, 92% against Brighton for example. However, a look at Grealish’s heatmap during his substitute appearance shows him rarely penetrating inside the box.
Performances are dissected by numerous statistics, charts and numbers but ultimately, the only thing that matters is the result. Grealish’s performance improved against Cardiff, as his pass forced the penalty which sealed all three points. Yet, he only has one assist registered all season.
Steve Bruce, who Grealish described in a recent interview in the Times, as “the best manager I’ve played under”, appears to be doing a lot to address Grealish’s previous lack of impact on games, chiefly by playing him in the number 10 role behind the centre forward.
Under Di Matteo, the midfielder did not have a settled position, even going up-front. Playing behind the forward allows Grealish to play to his strengths, have a significant effect on play and at the very least, be freekick bait.
While it is important that Grealish continues to work on the accuracy of his passing and movement in and around the box, urgency and purpose are perhaps the most important elements that he needs to bring to the table.
Grealish has always been confident of promotion this season. In that recent interview with The Times, he even ventured that automatic promotion is very much still the goal.
“For all the boys in the changing room, when we talk about it, going up in the top two is definitely doable,” he said.
By being more decisive and clinical in his play, the assists and goals will hopefully come, and that could be the real difference that gets Villa into the top two spots and back into the Premiership in style.
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