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xV: The stats don’t lie — yes, Jack Grealish really is a unique and incredible talent

There are plenty who try to discredit Jack Grealish, and they typically point to his goal and assist numbers. But those who do completely miss the numbers that show what makes Grealish one the Championship’s best players.

Aston Villa v Brentford - Sky Bet Championship
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Brentford at Villa Park on August 22, 2018 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a look at the statistics behind Villa’s results! This edition focuses solely on our main man, Jack Grealish.

Old meme format? Yes. Relevant? Also yes.

There are few things in football that bother me more than people who try to be “fake smart” when it comes to Jack Grealish. Imagine being the type of person who’s like “yeah, mate, the guy who’s fouled nearly twice as often as anyone else in the league, ranks in the top 10 of key passes per match, is highly rated by composite statistical ratings, and whose team is a Championship title contender with him and god-awful without him is actually bad” and thinking you’re some genius.

Hint: You’re not!

Grealish’s return meant the world of difference to Villa on Saturday, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t lead with that. I did get one snarky response to that tweet from a Grealish Truther, and of course, it acted as if the tweet was only about the goal that Jack scored. Yes, Jack’s goal was wonderful, but you completely missed the point if you thought everyone was gushing over him because of the goal. Actually, this is probably the thing that Grealish Truthers are worst about — they point to his goal and assist numbers as if they’re the only things that matter.

Think about this statement and whether you agree with it or not: “Giorgio Chiellini is overrated, because he only has one goal and one assist this season.”

If you’re a logical person, you disagree, because you recognize that the role of a centre back is not necessarily to score goals — it’s to put in good defensive shifts that enable your teammates up-field to be able to score themselves. In many ways, while Grealish plays a position that typically performs the role of scoring and assisting goals, he doesn’t actually play that role very often for Villa. When Grealish is at his best, he’s making the pass or opening up the space that leads to a great crossing opportunity, not necessarily playing the final ball himself. He’s the one winning the dangerous free kick that will be headed home, not the one taking the free kick or grabbing the goal. If secondary/hockey assists were a more common thing in football, I bet you’d see Grealish’s influence shine through more using traditional statistics.

The level to which Jack is a unique player really shows up in some of the more advanced metrics, though. His pass success rate is 88%, fourth-best in the Championship — yet he still manages 2.2 key passes per match, sixth-best in the league. Nobody else in the league can match that accuracy/incisiveness combination, and really, nobody can come close:

  • Of the 16 players passing at an 86% or better clip this season, only two average more than 1.1 key passes per match — teammate Conor Hourihane (1.8) and Reading’s John Swift (1.7)
  • Of the 14 players averaging at least 1.9 key passes per match this season, only two average better than 80% pass completion — Sheffield United’s Oliver Norwood (83%) and Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan (82%)

He’s in a league of his own here, and that’s before you consider the impact that he has on generating quality scoring chances from his best talent: winning free kicks. If you’re a Grealish Truther, you probably view him as a diver... and that’s fine and your prerogative. I think you’re wrong — in part because Jack’s 1.8 successful dribbles per match (fifth-best in the Championship among players who’ve made at least 10 appearances) suggest that he’s genuinely very good at beating defenders — but what you can’t argue is that he consistently wins his teams free kicks in dangerous positions.

If Jack is in a league of his own through those previous numbers, well, it’s a whole different story here. Grealish has been fouled 4.8 times per Championship match this season. John McGinn has been fouled the second-most of all Championship players at just 2.9 times per match. Out of every player in the Championship, there are only four others — McGinn, Fernando Forestieri, Darnell Fisher and Harry Wilson — who are even fouled half as often as Grealish is.

We’re at nearly 700 words here, and I could probably touch three or four more bases here if I wanted to.

But here’s the point — the next time you find some idiot on the internet saying Grealish is overrated because he doesn’t score many goals, or doesn’t have all that many assists, just put down the phone or walk away from the keyboard. It’s just not worth arguing with these people.