Jack Grealish is beginning to make the headlines for the right reasons at Aston Villa, but Tim Sherwood must help him develop.
“I like to play down young talent. So you need to dampen expectations. But Jack is exceptional.” It was the kind of quote that could only be attributed to one Tim Sherwood. From keeping his feet on the ground one minute to putting the weight of the world on his shoulders the next. Still, it’s hard to ignore that Sherwood is arguably one of the better placed managers to deal with such a precocious talent at this stage.
“We are sure he is going to be a top player. He is a real talent and something we have missed in the team in the early days. He is looking for the perfect finish but most goals are scruffy – sometimes you have to buy a ticket and get lucky.” Disappointed with Villa surrendering a two-goal lead against Leicester he will certainly be, but the image of Grealish firing home his first Premier League goal provided the biggest positive for Sherwood at the King Power Stadium.
Villa’s bright spark
Seemingly destined to become the latest success in a long line of Aston Villa youth graduates, Grealish was handed a starting role directly behind lone striker Gabby Agbonlahor in a 4-2-3-1. Providing Grealish only his third start of the season after injury in such a focal point of the attack attests to the trust placed in him by Sherwood, and it was a trust Grealish repaid in full.
Only two players recorded more efforts on goal than the youngster – Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez – as Grealish tested Kasper Schmeichel early on when he should have done better. An effort was blocked later, but, on the stroke of half-time, the Republic of Ireland youth international found the breakthrough.
After a tense goalmouth scramble, the ball fell kindly to Grealish, but the way in which the midfielder made a difficult finish look simple will offer hope that he can become the offensive outlet that Sherwood envisages.
With Carles Gil and Scott Sinclair providing adept support on the wings, Grealish was offered the freedom to express himself, and the signs are that while his expertly-taken opener on Sunday evening represented his maiden strike in Villa colours, it will be the first of many.
Plenty of improving to do
Of course, Grealish is not the completed article, and nor should he be at just 20 years of age. A passing accuracy of just 63.3% from his 30 passes was the second-lowest of any starter at the King Power Stadium, pointing to a player who must learn when to play risky passes and when to choose the simple ball.
Only Leandro Bacuna (24) and Jordan Amavi (23) lost possession of the ball more than Grealish (20) on the Villa side, with the 20-year-old still keen to make an impression. After featuring just nine times and making one start at the club before Sherwood’s appointment in February, more and more has been expected of Grealish.
Indeed, Sherwood has played him 14 times during his short tenure, with Grealish starting half of those games. Considering his loan spell at then League One Notts County ended only last year, one must bear in mind Grealish has had to acclimatise to a considerably higher level within just 12 months.
Drop Agbonlahor to help?
One thing Sherwood must contemplate to help Grealish’s progression is to offer a more potent attacking threat in front of him. Gabby Agbonlahor has been a loyal servant to the club, but is the striker good enough to be a regular starter for a Premier League side?
In short; the answer is no. Agbonlahor tested Schmeichel just once, made only 11 passes and had just 19 touches. Jordan Ayew had just 24 minutes on the pitch as a second half substitute, but five fewer touches and passes each, while Rudy Gestede made two fewer passes and seven fewer touches despite replacing Agbonlahor with 15 minutes remaining. Such an ineffective forward in front of Grealish cannot have helped the youngster.
After starting Agbonlahor in four of Villa’s five opening games, a change must be enforced. It’s down to Sherwood to have the faith to choose either of his summer acquisitions to lead the line for Villa in the future not just for the sake of the club’s future, but for the sake of Grealish’s.
With the focus moving further away from the escapades in his personal life, the time has come for Grealish to let his football create the headlines instead. If Sunday was anything to go by, he is on the right track.
- Leicester City have now gone nine Premier League games unbeaten (W6 D3), their best-ever run. Foxy.
- This is only the second time Leicester have come two goals down to win a Premier League match (previously 5-3 v Manchester United in September 2014).
- Jamie Vardy has been directly involved in a goal in five of his last six Premier League appearances for the Foxes (4 goals and 1 assist).
- Riyad Mahrez has had a hand in seven Leicester goals in his last eight Premier League games (Six goals, one assist).
- Carles Gil scored his first ever Premier League goal for Aston Villa
- Jack Grealish is the youngest player to score for Aston Villa in the PL (20y 3d) since Nathan Delfouneso in November 2010 (19y 281d)