The footballing world has long known the talent and ability of Jack Grealish. Aston Villa has come to rely heavily on their talisman but what happens when he is unavailable?
Those who don’t watch Villa on a weekly basis will probably fail to realise just how important he is to the team. His ability to attract 2-3 players to him frees up space for his teammates. Grealish picked up a horrible injury last pre-season but has since become a regular in the starting 11. Given a consistent run of games under Steve Bruce he flourished and became pivotal to the functionality of the team.
Supporters have worried in the back of their minds should we lose Grealish to long-term injury. Who would replace that creative flair in our side and the ability to travel forward with the ball? It is currently uncertain exactly how long Grealish will be out for this time around. It seems unlikely that he will be available for the game against Leeds the weekend. So assuming John McGinn and Conor Hourihane play, who replaces our talisman?
Birkir Bjarnason and Glenn Whelan
Dean Smith opted with Glenn Whelan for the 2-2 draw against Stoke. Whelan is a player who consistently performs but isn’t a like for like replacement for Jack. Both Whelan and Birkir Bjarnason tend to flourish at the base of the midfield. They initiate attacks by receiving the ball from the defence and tend to make a nuisance of themselves.
Bjarnason has been out injured so it is unclear how match fit he is. It if was a choice of these two I would opt for the Icelandic midfielder due to his increased mobility. Either would require Hourihane to be pushed forward with McGinn performing his usual busting role. All three players are pretty similar, however, offer different key roles to the team.
Hourihane can effectively play in a more attacking role, as demonstrated by the hat-trick he scored against Norwich last season. We have spoken about what McGinn offers in the past on the website so I won’t go over that again. The problem is neither offered what Grealish can. The pass before the assist. Creating space for others. It was clear to see against Stoke
Perhaps the most exciting but riskiest option would be Cal O’Hare. He would love the opportunity to follow in his fellow academy graduates shoes.
Prior to the new investment in the club, an uncertain Summer hinted at reliance on the academy to supplement the squad. It appeared that Grealish would be on his way, leaving O’Hare to step in as the ready-made replacement. The problem is, we have seen little of his clear ability at first-team level.
From what we have seen at the u-23 level it is clear that he is clever on the ball and has an eye for the goal. He could be described as the closest player we have to mimic Grealish’s style.
In a difficult game against Leeds, is it the right time to give O’Hare his first start for the first team? Although many fans would like to see him given his chance it does appear unlikely. Therefore a loan move may be the best option for the talented youngster, similar to what Grealish did.
Two up front
Maybe the best solution to replacing Grealish is to not replace him at all. How does any club in world football replace their talisman? Smith may opt to change his system altogether. He could opt for playing two up front instead.
It allows him to start Jonathan Kodjia following his impressive cameo against Stoke. It would also allow Smith to keep both Ahmed El Ghazi and Yanick Bolasie in the starting 11. A fluid three allowed to move with the ball and interconnect behind the goal scoring Abraham could be effective but could also lack direction.
By option to go with a second striker option, Smith would also be afforded the opportunity to start Scott Hogan. A player he has got the best out of in the past. Would a partnership of Abraham and Hogan work? I am not sure but it would be interesting to see deployed against a Leeds defence missing their captain through injury.
Regardless of who starts against Leeds, hopefully, they can contribute effectively to the attacking play of the team. It already looks like our first real 6 pointers of the season.