Between 2016 and 2019, Jack Grealish was lighting up the Championship for Aston Villa, but there were some who doubted whether he could do it in the Premier League. It turns out, he can.
The Englishman is at the heart of everything positive Aston Villa do, and is one of the key reasons they have started the 2020/21 campaign so well, sitting comfortably in ninth – just four points off fourth-placed Everton with two games in hand.
This season has also seen Grealish make his senior England debut, something many had been calling for for years since he switched allegiance from Republic of Ireland, and he certainly did not look out of place in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI.
His performances for club and country have seen Grealish once again linked with a move away from Aston Villa, with Premier League leaders Liverpool reportedly the latest team to join the race for his signature. Jurgen Klopp’s team know more than most the trouble Grealish can cause, with the Englishman scoring twice and recording a hat-trick of assists in Villa’s emphatic 7-2 win over Liverpool in October.
As his game continues to improve, there’s no denying the ceiling is high for Grealish’s potential. But what makes him such a unique talent and is he already one of the Premier League’s best players?
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One of the first things that comes to mind whenever Grealish is mentioned, is the Englishman’s ability to draw fouls. In 2019/20, Grealish won 167 fouls in the Premier League, more than any player across any of Europe’s big five divisions. His closest rival was Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, but the Ivorian was 47 off.
It’s been the same story this season. Already, Grealish has won 56 fouls in the Premier league, 20 more than any other player in the division and only second in Europe’s top five leagues to Angers midfielder Angelo Fulgini who has won 58, albeit playing three games more. And that’s before you consider the fouls Grealish probably should have won, but were overlooked by referees or deemed not enough to stop play.
But why is Grealish so good at winning fouls? Quite simply, because he has the ball so much for Aston Villa in dangerous areas and is very good with it at his feet. The 25-year-old has had 108 touches in the opposition box in the Premier League this season, joint-top alongside Mohamed Salah. Only two players in Europe’s top five leagues have had more so far this season, Kylian Mbappe (116) and Lionel Messi (111). Grealish is keeping fine company.
He has also won more duels than any other player in the Premier League (123), and his 37 take-ons is only bettered by Fulham’s Andre Zambo Anguissa (44) and Wolves’ Adama Traore (47), but his tally will of course be affected by the amount of times he sees a dribble ended by a foul.
Jack Grealish is dominating the Premier League this season:
⬢ Most successful final ⅓ passes
⬢ Most duels won
⬢ Most touches in the opp. box
⬢ Most fouls won
⬢ Most chances created
⬡ 6 assists
⬡ 5 goals
Low socks, high output. 🧦 pic.twitter.com/4lY19g4s8U
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 22, 2020
In the past, even as recently as July, it has been claimed that Grealish racks up so many fouls won because he cannot read the game quick enough; that Grealish is stopped in his tracks because he holds onto the ball for too long, taking too many extra, unnecessary touches. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Grealish is the Premier League’s top creator so far this season, creating 43 chances, two more than any other player and only second to Hakan Calhanoglu in Europe’s top five leagues. For some, the chances they create are aided by the fact they take set pieces. For example, Bruno Fernandes has created 41 chances in the Premier League so far, second behind Grealish, but 32 when narrowing it down to open play (still second).
Villa’s main man has created 38 chances from open play, again the best in the Premier League, proving that he can in fact read the game and knows when to release the ball at just the right time. Grealish has also completed 271 passes in the final third this season, always looking to cause danger where it matters for Villa. His six assists are third only to Harry Kane (10) and Kevin De Bruyne (seven) but that could also say more about his teammates and their finishing, rather than the chances he is creating.
Jack Grealish → Man City? 🧐
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 23, 2020
Arguably the one section Grealish may need to work on to continue his rise up the Premier League ranks is his goals. The Englishman has scored five goals in the league so far this season, second at Villa to Ollie Watkins’ six. But when comparing it to the rest of the league, Grealish is down in 12th.
However, Grealish’s goal output comes down to the fact that he just doesn’t shoot enough. That isn’t his role in this Villa team. The Englishman has had 19 shots in the Premier League this season (excluding blocks), hitting the target with 12 of those, and a shot conversion rate of 26.32%.
If he does add more goals to his game, there’s no denying Grealish could eventually become one of the top five Premier League players. Even without the goals, though, Grealish is undeniably in the top 10 for the current campaign.