By Kris Woodward
This week finally welcomed the news Aston Villa fans had all been waiting to hear; Dean Smith confirming Jack Grealish is fit and available for Derby’s visit to Villa Park.
This generated quite a lot of excitement on social media, with Villa’s recent poor form and lack of creativity no doubt the main reason.
Villa Midfield Set-up
Now with Jack back, he would be expected to go straight back into the starting XI (especially after the club’s social media department have overhyped his comeback).
So what does this mean for Villa’s midfield? You may presume that when everyone is fit and available, John McGinn and Jack would be Smith’s choice of attacking midfielders, pushing Connor Hourihane back to a deeper role.
Conor Hourihane’s effectiveness in the deeper role was recently questioned here on MOMS, so another option for this position maybe Tom Carroll who has only featured once for Villa since joining on deadline day.
Smith may prefer Carroll in a deep lying playmaker position, a player who is more comfortable playing further back. Carroll has found game time difficult to come by this season, only playing 13 games in the league. Dean Smith will also want to see what Carroll can offer the club ahead of any potential purchase in the summer.
McGinn however, is ineligible for Saturday’s game, serving the final of his two-match ban. This may see Hourihane further forward and Whelan act as the defensive midfielder; Carroll is more likely to appear from the bench.
Fans of other teams in the Championship are often quick to point out Grealish’s statistics in terms of goals and assists, comparing him to other players who play in similar positions in the league.
Whilst Jack’s goals and assists contribution might not grab any headlines, you can’t underestimate the role he plays for the team. He is one of very few players currently at Aston Villa, who have that ability to pick the ball up in the middle of the park and drive play forward, putting pressure on the oppositions half.
He is also someone that draws the attention of the opposing players, freeing space up for other Villa’s other attacking players. He still ranks as the most fouled player in the league despite not playing a third of the season.
This season, with Jack, Villa have won 31 points from 21 games. Without Jack, Villa have only managed 13 points from 13 games. This goes some way in showing the impact that Grealish has on the squad and how much he contributes.
A majority of Tammy’s goals this season have come from the ball being crossed into the box. With Grealish back and occupying the defenders in the middle of the park, it may free up the wingers and give them space and time to deliver decent crosses into the box, helping Tammy get back to that prolific form fans saw before Christmas.
Is this the end of our love affair?
With the inevitability of another season in the Championship looming, the speculation on Grealish’s future will certainly increase. It’s no secret Aston Villa were very close to losing him last summer and if Daniel Levy had taken advantage of Villa’s financial situation sooner rather than low-balling, he wouldn’t be with Villa now.
Villa supporters are still uncertain whether their club will be in a strong financial position come the summer due to Financial Fair Play, despite the CEO reassuring supporters they have nothing to worry about (where have we heard that before?).
Without promotion, Aston Villa’s finances are going to be stretched as a result of parachute payments finishing at the end of this season. The board may see Grealish as their safety net for failing to secure a return to the Premier League and a way of balancing the books.
Whether Villa need to sell or not, Grealish himself will surely want a return to top flight football, to better his chances of an England call-up. He will have seen the success of James Madison this year and surely be thinking he can emulate this; any professional with his level of confidence would.
Grealish however, is yet to complete a full season in the Championship without suffering a medium-to-long term injury. Couple this with his stats in front of goal, which will no doubt be taken into consideration by any Premier League club, given his playing-position. This may stunt the kind of bids Villa will get for the player come the summer. It’s very unlikely, his release clause will be triggered.
Grealish is one of the highest earner’s not just at Aston Villa but also in the Championship and would certainly not consider moving to another club in the same league, given his links to Villa. So ask yourself the question, which clubs in the Premier League would potentially offer upwards of £20-25 million for him?
This of course is a problem for a few months’ time.
If he were to go then surely that would mean upon returning from injury, he carries on showing us the talent fans know he has. Villa’s results improve and receive a hefty sum to reinvest in the squad in the summer.
If he comes back and takes some time to rediscover this form, then there is a chance he stays, which every Villa fan would surely love to see.