A Closer Look: Jack Grealish, with Tim Sherwood

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Naz Majeed


Everyone raves about Jack Grealish, but do the numbers back it up? Joined by former Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood, we take a look at the qualities of the playmaker. 

Mercurial, impish, talismanic. Those are often the words used to describe unique talents, individuals who often seem to single-handedly lift their team, players who have a gravitas, an X-Factor, an unquantifiable quality that cannot be coached, coaxed, or cultivated.

Former Premier League stars such as Eric Cantona, Matt Le Tissier and Dennis Bergkamp have all possessed such qualities. Often reserved for attackers,  most often branded as creative attacking midfielders, usually playing “in the hole”, but the words could sometimes find their way to describing forwards or wingers.

They are words often used around Jack Grealish, the Aston Villa captain who has been their star player and focal point. This week we spoke to former Villa boss Tim Sherwood about the player that everyone seems to want, the pair having worked together in 2015.

With first-hand experience watching the player on and off the field, it was Sherwood who gave Grealish his first career Premier League start as the pair sparked a successful battle against relegation and then made the decision to start the player (then only 19) in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal. 

“Jack Grealish is a special talent, there are not many players like Jack around in the Premier League. He is a great dribbler of the ball and creator of chances for teammates.”

Grealish is ranked fifth in the Premier League for chances created this season, with Kevin De Bruyne and Trent Alexander Arnold being the top two, playing for the two most attacking sides in the country.

Taking into account the proportion of chances created from open play, however, Grealish at 82% is only behind Mohamed Salah (at 89%) for players in the top ten. Having the skill and invention to create that many chances (69 in total) without wholly depending on set-pieces (75% of De Bruyne’s created chances come open play, while Alexander-Arnold’s number is at 53%) suggests a touch of stardust and wizardry that not every team has, but every team craves.

Watching Grealish demand the ball, his low-socked stance recognizable from anywhere on the pitch, fans are often treated to a player with the quick feet to match his quick wits. He is the most fouled player in the Premier League, with 127 fouls won in 2334 minutes played. That translates to the player being fouled every 18 minutes.

Wilfried Zaha is next on the list, with a comparatively measly 97 fouls won (roughly one every 27 minutes). Grealish is also top of the league for fouls won in the final third, and even while being fouled so often, has a higher completed dribbles percentage than Riyad Mahrez, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane.

 

Now, I realize that this piece started with a few lines gushing about how certain players have an unquantifiable quality, before then going into quantifying the contribution of Jack Grealish, but I would wager that few people could have said with any degree of certainty the statistics would always support the belief in and of his talent.

Michael Carrick and Luka Modric, for example, rarely had statistics that would take your breath away even as anyone watching would be mesmerized by their technique.

Grealish, on the other hand, impresses on both an instinctive and intellectual level, and the suggestion is that he could reach an even higher level with better players around him.

“I am sure he would love to stay at Aston Villa for the remainder of his career, but that would depend on Villa being in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.”

Even after creating so many chances (not including free-kicks he has won), Grealish is only 16th in the league in the number of assists recorded.

A defence-splitting pass, a pinpoint cross, a through ball to create a one-on-one, it is all wasted if you do not have the strikers to finish, and with a roughly 8% conversion rate, Grealish deserves better from those around him (16% of De Bruyne’s chances are finished).

Now, one might argue that perhaps those above him simply create better chances but it cannot be debated that should Grealish find himself feeding Marcus Rashford or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Harry Kane, he would find a better return than in his current situation.

 

So with Aston Villa 19th in the suspended Premier League (albeit with a game in hand), I asked Tim Sherwood what they needed to do to get out of the relegation zone, to keep their mercurial, impish, talismanic captain. His answer was simple, to the point, and reinforced the need to make use of Grealish while they still had him.

“Win.”