For the past few weeks one of the frequently points of mitigation to Aston Villa’s recent poor run of two wins in 13 games under Dean Smith, has been the absence of Jack Grealish.
It had been rumoured that the Villa midfielder, would make the bench for the Stoke City game.
“Saturday will come too soon for him, he won’t be able for Saturday,” said, Smith, in the pre-Stoke City press conference.
“He’s [Grealish] still working very hard on the training ground and he’s done bits and bobs with us.”
While Grealish maybe now out on the Bodymoor Heath pitches, any returning contribution is likely to be too little too late.
The impact of Grealish and even Axel Tuanzebe’s injury to the Villa team is arguable, as is Dean Smith’s public claim that Grealish is the best player in the division.
Grealish and Tuanzebe were both in the 5-5 draw against Nottingham Forest that laid bare the weaknesses of Smith’s approach to the game and the evident openness of the Villa defence.
Both also played in the 2-2 draw at the Albion, where Villa showed once again, the manager’s in-game management was questionable. Letting two points slip once again, as they had done against Forest (despite being 5-4 up against 10 men).
The theme to Villa this season was already clearly beginning before Grealish stepped out of the picture.
While it’s hard to back Smith’s ‘best in the league’ claim about Grealish, with his key stats of two goals and four assists in 21 starts this season, not exactly mind-blowing.
Yannick Bolasie managed exactly the same stats in just nine starts and half the total on-pitch minutes…and he wasn’t meant to be fully fit.
Of course, Grealish draws players onto him to win free-kicks and also open up the space for his teammates, but to be hyped as the best in the league, considering the position he plays, he needs a lot more end product.
Villa though, would be foolish to ever be too reliant on a player that hasn’t been close to completing a whole Championship season in three attempts.
There’s no doubt, it’s very unlikely any top six Premier League will trigger his realise clause now, as there are too many question marks above the head of the 23-year-old.
Maybe Villa will have a chance of retaining his services for another season? It’s not totally out of the question, although you’d think he’ll be trying to sniff out an acceptable move to the Premier League.
A returning Grealish against Stoke City would have been good timing, considering that John McGinn has been suspend for the next two games and new loanee Tom Carroll will also sit out the Stoke game (Smith reckons he’ll be back for Derby though). Henri Lansbury is still a long-term absentee.
Glenn Whelan is likely to start alongside Conor Hourihane, but who else will take up a midfield berth remains to be seen.
Birkir Bjarnason wasn’t in the match day squad for the recent Albion game, so that throws up a question mark. While Mile Jedinak AND Glenn Whelan might not give Villa the dynamism their midfield needs.
Would Smith consider starting Jacob Ramsey? Or would he even entertain going 4-4-2, with Kodjia alongside Abraham?
At this stage, you could argue, Smith has nothing to lose, so nothing should be off the table.