Jack Grealish in action for England

Jack Grealish: Why England will miss Aston Villa midfielder

Injury has deprived England fans of seeing Jack Grealish in a Three Lions shirt during this international break.

Aston Villa supporters know all too well what it is like to be without him.

Their 1-0 win over Leeds in February the first Premier League game Villa had won without him since February 2016. His absence is headline-worthy.

However, when he wasn't on the team sheet a week earlier at home to Leicester, a match Villa lost 2-1, it garnered far more attention for reasons off the pitch than on it, ultimately leading to a Fantasy Football ban at Villa Park.

While the story was without doubt rather entertaining, it also made one thing abundantly clear. The list of people who want a healthy Grealish in their team is understandably long — in fantasy and reality.

Jürgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Mikel Arteta and many more have waxed lyrical about the 25-year-old this season. The underlying numbers wholeheartedly support their message.

Grealish is an elite creative force

Villa’s hometown hero has already registered 10 assists this season, more than enough to silence cliché-loving doubters heading into the campaign after notching five in 2019/20.

Assists can be a noisy stat, though, with so much riding on whether another player delivers when presented a scoring opportunity. Expected assists (xA) measures the likelihood of a given pass becoming a goal assist, making it a better way to quantify chance creation.

  • xA considers factors such as the type of pass, pass end-point and length of pass.

For example, Harry Kane leads the Premier League with 13 assists despite recording 6.88 xA, owing a number of his actual assists to a mix of positive variance and excellent finishing.

Although Grealish does have more assists than his total expected assists value (8.09 xA), he is up among the Premier League's elite in terms of chance creation.

Stats correct up to Grealish's current absence

Only Kevin De Bruyne had recorded more xA than Grealish this season when he was sidelined, while the Villa man had averaged more key passes per game than any other player in the league, with Bruno Fernandes lying second in that metric.

Grealish himself has admitted that his final ball was an area of focus in the offseason, citing De Bruyne and Philippe Coutinho as inspirations in finding teammates in space when he is doubled up.

His clear improvement in that area alone is a testament to his work ethic. As a result, the production we are seeing as a creator this season is astounding.

Can Grealish improve further?

Grealish's giant lead at the top of the 'fouls won' category is well-documented, but his ability to carry the ball opens up a host of attacking avenues for both himself and Villa.

He leads the league in progressive carries in the final third, often putting himself in good positions to either shoot or supply a teammate.

What is expected goals (xG)?

  • Expected goals (xG) is a metric that measures the quality of any given scoring opportunity
  • Expected goals for (xGF) is the xG created by a team
  • Expected goals against (xGA) is xG conceded by a team

The England international's expected goal (xG) numbers are by no means poor in 2020/21, scoring six goals from a total of 4.96 xG, but the possibility of improvement is there.

Thierry Henry, Arjen Robben and most recently Riyad Mahrez are names that spring to mind when thinking of a repeatable skill that leads to a goal. Grealish's data suggests that it is possible that he can develop his own 'trademark' goal.

A high volume of his shots are in a condensed area, seemingly cutting in from his position on the left side of Villa's attack.

Grealish's Premier League 2020/21 shot map

Curiously, Grealish hasn't had too much success from that area. As we've seen, Villa's captain has the drive to build on his skillset. If he adds another string to his bow, what's to stop Grealish from being one of the better players in the world?

At this point, we're nitpicking. Grealish is already among the Premier League elite, producing incredible displays almost every week.

We already know how much Aston Villa will miss him in the coming weeks. Their loss to Leicester, along with two 2-1 defeats to Wolves and Liverpool in his absence last season, confirm as much.

Yes Villa managed to beat Leeds, but that victory was built on defensive solidity rather than attacking prowess. Leeds were missing their own talisman in Kalvin Phillips, too, so perhaps the absence of Grealish was balanced out.

In the 2018-19 season in the Sky Bet Championship, Grealish’s lengthy spell on the sidelines with a shin injury almost derailed Villa’s bid to return to the Premier League after a three-year absence. During his three months out of the line-up, Villa won just two out of 13 league games, drawing seven and losing four, picking up 13 points from a possible 39.

His return coincided with 10 straight Villa wins, starting with a 4-0 thumping of Derby – Grealish played in nine of them and was rested for one – as they marched into the play-offs from a position of mid-table mediocrity.

Not only are Villa thriving in the top-flight because of Grealish, not only did they survive last season due in a large part to him – but, without him, they simply wouldn’t even have got back there in the first place.

It’s obvious that his absence hurts Villa severely. What is less obvious, however, is that every team on the planet would miss the output Jack Grealish provides.

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