After suffering a kidney injury in a pre-season friendly against Watford, you’d have placed good money on it being an uphill struggle for Jack Grealish in the 2017/2018 Championship season. With time out, how would Villa’s star performer fit back into a team that had to find a way to get by without him?
In his first true game back from that terrible injury - Jack proved that Villa fans wouldn’t have to own much doubt about him and his talents - setting up a Henri Lansbury strike to spare Villa a crushing loss back at the start of December against Leeds United. Despite some small drops here and there - both Grealish and Aston Villa haven’t really looked back since. With Steve Bruce entering the season with plans to build a side around Jack Grealish - who took the number 10 shirt - Villa’s prodigal son returned to the fold, and didn’t just get up to speed, but he set the tempo for the side. There has been a lot of focus on the player this season, with all the hype, the injury, the shirt number, the disappointments - and despite that intense glare, all Jack has really done since coming back is thrive.
When Birmingham City enter Villa Park to commence the 126th edition of the Second City derby, much of the focus once more will be on Jack Grealish in a way that we haven’t really seen since the 2014 FA Cup Final against Arsenal, which was billed as Jack’s big moment - heading in - until Villa were tore apart on the biggest stage in English Football. The Grealish we have today is a world away from the Jack that took to that stage. Both are surrounded in hype, but it is the 2018 model, JG 2.0, that is delivering the goods.
While he only has a single league goal to his name, an expertly-taken volley against Burton Albion, Grealish has ran the show for his side. Remodelling his ‘Number 10’ role, Grealish is a hybrid defensive midfielder and classic attacking midfielder. He’s a terrier who will drop back to break up attacks, he will harrass attackers whilst looking to lead Villa forward with direct dribbling manoeuvres and cut-throat passing. Ignore the possible hyperbole here - but there’s nobody out there doing what Jack Grealish is doing - getting involved in all phases of the game from a starting position in the final third.
While Grealish has been boosted by the presence of the resolute Birkir Bjarnason and the wiley Conor Hourihane, it’s his own talents that have helped Villa move up a gear. Able to function under pressure - able to punish teams for pressing & standing off - there doesn’t seem to be much of a way to defend Grealish than outright clattering him, which isn’t always guaranteed to work. Jack is one of the most fouled players in a Championship season that he missed four months of!
On Sunday, look to Villa’s midfield and the tenacious Jack Grealish - because in a side that relies on individual inspiration through players like Robert Snodgrass, Scott Hogan and Albert Adomah - it will likely be Jack Grealish who is leading the charge to victory, or fighting to avoid defeat.
It has been Jack’s dream to bury a winner past Birmingham City before the adoring Holte End, and it is tomorrow that brings about the most likely stage for that dream to finally come true.