Aston Villa star facing necessary stylistic tweak in absence of Championship luxury – opinion

Jack Grealish has achieved his childhood dream.

He has won promotion with Aston Villa and is now, officially, a Premier League player again.

Having been linked with Tottenham Hotspur frequently, he is now set to take on the top-flight with his boyhood club instead.

But the question bears asking: is Grealish ready?

He’s 23 and across 35 games in all competitions this season, he scored six goals and laid on eight assists. That is not a groundbreaking return.

And yet, under Dean Smith, he has been a player transformed and his return from injury coincided with Villa embarking on a run that saw them go 10 games unbeaten and earn their way into the play-offs, which, of course, they won.

Per WhoScored, Grealish is not a very defensive player. He does not get stuck in and he rarely tracks back; he averages 1.1 tackles per game, 0.5 interceptions and 1.3 fouls.

Attacking-wise, though, it becomes clear that he is exceptional at carrying the ball forward. He averages 1.8 dribbles per game, 2.1 shots, 2.3 key passes and is fouled, on average, 4.7 times per game. In 31 Championship games, that equates to 127 fouls.

And yet, Grealish is a player who is afforded the luxury of time; he regularly takes the ball on the half-turn and is allowed to pick a pass, purely because of the lack of defensive organisation in the second-tier. That will not be allowed to stand in the Premier League against the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Jan Vertonghen and Aymeric Laporte.

Jack Grealish Spurs - Aston Villa star facing necessary stylistic tweak in absence of Championship luxury - opinion

He may, then, have to change stylistically, and grow in the way he manipulates the ball. He cannot afford to rely on the deficiencies of his opponents anymore and needs to grow into a more economical distributor, making more of fewer touches; he currently averages 48.1 passes per game.

There is, after all, a gaping hole in the England squad for a player of Grealish’s profile yet we do not know if he has the ability to grasp it. James Maddison appears set to become Dele Alli’s understudy at international level but he still qualifies for the Under-21s and Gareth Southgate is taking his time when it comes to integrating the Leicester City star into his plans.

Grealish could take advantage of that uncertainty with some sparkling displays in the Premier League but history suggests that he needs to grow to do so.

He has, after all, played in the Premier League before; 34 appearances yielded one goal and one assist.

That was a different player, though, and he needs to prove that.

He has a £60m release clause in his contract now but is he worth it when you look beyond the usual ‘he’s English’ hype? It is ultimately down to him to prove that he is.

But if Villa do a Fulham – make some bad decisions and suffer some bad results – Grealish’s value could tumble and there could be another Ryan Sessegnon situation, with clubs circling to take a once-acclaimed prodigy off of his club’s hands.

Now is the time for Grealish to tweak his game, rise to the new challenge and prove he belongs at the top level.

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