A little over a month ago, I wrote a piece about which focused on Jack Grealish. We had just endured the first international break of the season and with Tyrone Mings earning his first international call up, there was a lot of discussion about just how far off Grealish was from joining him, and Tom Heaton, in the England squad.
Fast forward a few weeks to the next international break and Villa supporters were again having the same conversation about Grealish’s chances of a call-up. The lacklustre defeat against the Czech Republic added to the belief that the Three Lions set up would really benefit from Grealish’s creativity.
All the while though, it has felt like it’s mostly just been Villa supporters advocating Grealish. Besides one or two murmurings, the outside world hadn’t quite cottoned on to what we all seemed to know. I wonder how many Villa fans put their money on Grealish stepping up on the best sports betting sites.
Suddenly, it feels like all that has finally changed.
Grealish’s performance last weekend against Brighton was sensational. All action, combative and creative. And he has rightly been earning the plaudits from pundits and other clubs supporters alike.
Villa were featured first on Match of the Day last Saturday, a rarity which goes back years. Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Phil Neville were all unanimous in their admiration of Grealish and spent a decent amount of time heaping praise upon him. Whilst the standard of punditry on the BBC, in particular, is often derided, the exposure that our captain gained from this segment to a wider football audience cannot be underestimated. A hell of a lot of people will still base their opinions on the institution that is MOTD.
Twitter seemed to be a good indicator of people finally awakening to how good Grealish is. The platform was awash with plenty of tweets noting just how good he was from supporters of other teams as well as plenty calling for him to be in the next England squad.
It’s no coincidence that the spotlight Grealish is suddenly basking under has coincided with his goal return in the last couple of games. And that in itself has coincided with Grealish playing further up the pitch.
Quickly hopping back to the piece I wrote back in September, I asked a simple question; does Grealish need to play a more advanced role? Even those on the best nhl betting sites were thinking along similar lines
Goals and assists have never been a hallmark of Grealish’s game. As Villa supporters, we knew the contributions he was making to our team. We’d seen glimpses of quality early on. He was still drawing out the opposition to create space for others, and he was still creating chances for the team. Yes, he was being effective and could carve out a career as a deep-lying playmaker such as Luka Modric or Andrea Pirlo. But it always felt like there was more to come from him in an attacking sense.
It was also undeniable that the likes of James Maddison and Mason Mount were ahead of him in the international reckoning due to them offering more of a threat in terms of goals and assists returns.
Dean Smith must take huge credit for devising a way to get Grealish in the box more without sacrificing John McGinn’s threat or switching to a system with two holding midfielders (although this may be needed for our next couple of games against Manchester City and Liverpool). And whilst Smith is the architect of the system, Conor Hourihane is very much the enabler in coming into the team and letting Grealish be more expansive on the left-hand side.
Since the switch, Grealish’s whole game has gone up another level. A man of the match was tough to pick in the 5-1 mauling at Norwich, but Grealish was certainly a candidate for it. His goal at Carrow Road came as a result of a skilful yet direct run into the box where he held his position to receive the ball back once he’d laid it off from Anwar El Ghazi.
An even clearer example of the difference in Grealish came against Brighton though. Surging into the 6-yard box to finish off a move that he himself started near the halfway line really highlighted the difference in his game. Beforehand, Grealish would stay lurking around the edge of the area, hoping to pick off any loose scraps and either take on a shot or build an attack again from there.
Being more direct and gambling more to get into the area is exactly what was missing from his game. The good thing is that it doesn’t appear to negate the other aspects of his play; he is still drawing space and still creating chances. Let’s not forget that it was Grealish who drew the foul from Aaron Mooy for the Australian’s second yellow card. It still appears that the only way to stop Grealish is to do so unfairly. But as well as his goal, the calmness and weight of pass for Matt Targett to rifle in the winner was a real show of talent and maturity. Goals and assists? No, bother.
Southgate in attendance
The bottom line is that those are the things will get you noticed quicker than anything, no matter what else you do. And after so long of Grealish’s talent being written off because he doesn’t score or assist enough, he finally seems set to banish the last fallacy that people were so quick to dismiss him over (although haters will still say he dives).
Much has been made of the fact that England manager Gareth Southgate was in attendance at Villa Park and Grealish, who has previously failed to impress in front of the watching national boss before, left him in no doubt that he was ready to step up to international level. It really did feel like this was a huge turning point in Grealish’s career.
He may have ‘only’ notched against Norwich and Brighton, but after 9 Premier League games, Grealish now has a third of the goal tally that he managed in 34 Championship games last season. Things suddenly bode well for a healthy goals return and he is no longer being viewed as just a very good Championship player.
Tougher tests are to come. The next two weeks, in particular, see Villa take on both Manchester City and Liverpool. But the way Grealish is playing, you wouldn’t bet against him enhancing his reputation even further. I’m convinced he’s just hit a major turning point in his career.