Jack Grealish has been absent from Aston Villa’s matchday squad since the start of February and while his return to action is scheduled for before the end of the Premier League season, Villa’s skipper has been a major miss.

With losses to Leicester City, rock-borrow club Sheffield United and an out of sorts Tottenham side all suffered in the weeks that followed Grealish’s injury at the Amex Stadium, Dean Smith’s side have waved goodbye to their hopes of European football this term.

Grealish’s talismanic performances earlier in the season had tempted Villa fans into believing that this Premier League season could have reached unexpected heights only months after surviving relegation by a point.

It was, with four games left to play, the greatest survival story in the Premier League era as Grealish helped Villa take seven points from the 12 up for grabs during Project Restart. The Villa skipper has this season taken his game to a new level, and managed to improve on the 14 goal contributions he managed last term after only his 18th appearance of this season.

Though, after missing Villa’s tie with West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park, Grealish’s absence was extended to ten league games. With six goals scored and 12 assists made this top-flight campaign, those numbers tell only half the story of what influence Villa have had to play without since his injury over two months ago.

The 25-year-old hopes to take a significant step on the road to recovery should his upcoming injury scan confirm he is ready to resume full training. Even then it might still be another fortnight until he is ready to make a Premier League return, though boss Smith remains adamant the England international will be ready for Euro 2020.

“There’s not really a timeline (on his injury) as such,” said Smith. “He’s due to have a scan next week.

“Hopefully that clears it up and we go full board with training. We’ll be guided by the time and the medical practitioners. I have no doubts he’ll be okay for the Euros.”

In the first half of the Premier League season, many outsiders viewed Smith’s Villa as the league’s surprise package, with an identity built on key partnerships, an insatiable work rate, and individual quality, much of which stemmed from the irresistible Grealish.

Jack Grealish for England

Though, after winning just two of their last 10 league games, Villa have suffered to match the same levels of performances exhibited earlier in the campaign. Back-to-back 3-0 wins over West Brom and Crystal Palace in between Christmas epitomized the ruthless streak Smith’s side had found, but more recently, after failing to penetrate Wolves, Newcastle United, Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City, Villa’s top-half finish is now in the balance.

When Smith is finally given the green light to welcome back Grealish in the coming weeks, he’ll be recalling not only one of the more creative players in the Premier League but on his day, one of the best on the continent.

Jack Grealish continues to top the charts despite lengthy injury lay-off

As 2020 drew to a close, Grealish had won more fouls than any other player in the Premier League this season. Grealish drew 73 fouls after only 15 games, two of which led to penalty kicks. While Villa have experienced varied success from the penalty spot this term, goals from open play weren’t in short measure earlier this term as Grealish controlled Villa’s creative output from a wider role.

Grealish made 122 touches in the attacking penalty area – a Premier League high that demonstrated his attacking influence in Smith’s side. Grealish’s expected assists of 4.5 was only bettered by Kevin De Bruyne, while Villa’s captain also made the most shot-creating actions in the league at the end of December. 61 of his 84 shot-creating actions had led to an effort on goal – a high proportion when measured against his top-flight counterparts.

His 55 key passes were also a Premier League high and a big improvement from the numbers Grealish was recording towards the end of 2019. Having dribbled past over 45 different Premier League players before Villa’s 2-1 loss at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day, Grealish moved with the ball at his feet over 3,600 yards since the start of the campaign. Last season, Grealish set a new Premier League record of total progressive distance traveled with the ball after covering 9,108 yards in 38 games.

Now, having missed a large proportion of the season and for Villa, the business end of it with European hopes over, Grealish still ranks amongst not only the best in the Premier League but in fact some of the best amongst Europe.

While the coming years will be Grealish’s to realize his ambitions with his club he grew up supporting – a cornerstone of English football making its way back to the heights from which it once fell with a local lad leading a new, exciting era – the skipper must start the upcoming season like he started this one.

Villa’s 2020-21 season is all but over, but yet, the figures that demonstrate just how well Grealish was playing at its beginning are staggering. Despite missing over a third of the Premier League season, Grealish has made more carries into the penalty box than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.

With 75 carries into the 18-yard box, Grealish tops this particularly creative measurement with Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé coming in second with 62 – the greatest difference between any two players amongst this statistic from players who play in the Premier League, Bundesliga, LaLiga, Ligue 1 and the Seria A.

Jack Grealish is a big part of the Aston Villa project.

In the Premier League, Grealish has carried the ball into the penalty box 21 times more than any other Premier League player, with Marcus Rashford and Pedro Neto both equal at 54 penalty box entries. In terms of ball carrying more generally, only Lionel Messi, Rodrigo De Paul, and Frenkie De Jong have carried the ball over a progressive distance more times than Grealish this season.

Messi and Grealish were both leading the way for progressive carries for the majority of the season when compared to players in Europe’s top five leagues, but after only playing 22 games this campaign, Grealish has since been overtaken by Udinese’s De Paul and Barcelona’s De Jong, who have both recorded 287 and 284 progressive carries respectively.

In the Premier League, Grealish is again way out in front. Wolves’ Neto is again breathing down the Villa captain’s neck having registered 273 progressive carries in the English top-flight this term, which is only two fewer than Grealish.

Grealish has made a total of 20 goal-creating actions in almost as many Premier League games this year, but while his game time has been severely cut due to his shin injury, Harry Kane and Bruno Fernandes have both managed to nudge ahead and record slightly more.

Tottenham’s Kane has recorded only two more goal-creating actions than Grealish, while Fernandes has made 26 in total this season. However, if we judge this creative measurement fairly and apply a per90 stipulation, Grealish reigns supreme.

With a goal-creating action per90 of 0.91 bettering Fernandes’ 0.86 and Kane’s 0.85 goal-creating actions per90 this Premier League season, here’s the proof that Villa’s talisman has been missed and some. Only Manchester United’s Fernandes and Chelsea’s Mason Mount – who have both enjoyed stellar campaigns this term – have made more key passes than Grealish this season too.

Wherever you look, from how many wins Villa have taken in the past months, how their form has dropped off, the stats that demonstrate Grealish’s influence in the team, and even how service to Ollie Watkins has severely dried up, it seems that replacing Grealish is the impossible task for Aston Villa.

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