Aston Villa will again be without skipper Jack Grealish when they face Sheffield United on Wednesday – but Dean Smith has talked up the abilities of a man who can provide the X-factor for his side.
Grealish has not been involved in the last two games due to a lower leg injury. Villa have endured some mixed results in that time – a 2-1 home loss to Leicester before a 1-0 victory at Leeds on Saturday.
Asked about the England international at his press conference ahead of the trip to Bramall Lane, Smith confirmed his talisman remains sidelined.
“He won’t be ready for the game tomorrow, he’s not travelling with us,” Smith stated.
“We’ll decide whether we can get him on the training ground later in the week. He’s working with the doctor and the rehab staff every day.
“It’s frustrating because he’s a top player and we’d be a better team having him in it. But it’s one of those things – players get injured. It’s how you cope without those top players.
“He just feels it on one movement, so once that’s free he can go and train. We’re looking at whether we can get him on the training pitch by the end of this week.”
Smith added: “There was a lot of noise outside that we were a one-man team and couldn’t win without Jack. But we firmly believed in the squad of players we’ve got. But we also know we’re a better team with Jack in it because of the top-class player he is.
“It’s always disappointing when he’s not in the team because of what he gives us, but we know we’re more than capable of winning games without him.”
Smith also said goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was “fine” after a tight groin. Matty Cash (hamstring) and Kortney Hause (foot) have been doing some running as their recoveries continue. Striker Wesley, meanwhile – out since January 2020 due to a knee injury – has been in full contact training.
Smith talks up Anwar El Ghazi
In the absence of Grealish, Anwar El Ghazi has started the last two games and scored the winner against Leeds, his sixth Premier League goal of the season.
Smith said of the Dutch winger: “He’s done really well when he’s been called upon. He had a really fruitful December and I think John McGinn came out with his new name – ‘Anwar El Goalzi’.
“He’s just come into the team and he needs confidence. When he is a confident player, he looks one hell of a player. He came on against Wolves (on December 12), scored a penalty and then went on a goalscoring spree. Hopefully he can take confidence from his performance against Leeds and continue that into March.
“I just want him to keep believing in himself, because when he does, he can be unplayable at times.”
Asked if thought El Ghazi was a player who does not realise how good he can be, Smith said: “Yes, I do at times. The ceiling is still not reached with Anwar, there is so much more potential we can get out of him – but he is also key to getting that potential out as well.
“He’s shown glimpses but we want it to be more consistent and he knows, after the conversations I’ve had with him, that we’re working on getting that consistency which will turn him into a real top player.”