Jack Grealish’s refusal to shy away from wanting the ball is a talent that makes him “outstanding”, according to former Chelsea and Italy star Gianfranco Zola.
The Aston Villa captain led his side to an 11th-place finish in their first season back in the Premier League, before enduring a quiet summer for England at Euro 2020, where he managed two assists across 173 minutes of action.
Grealish was streaks ahead in terms of creativity last term, creating 70 chances in the Premier League from open play – 26 more than any of his team-mates and just seven fewer than Bruno Fernandes’ league-high 77.
Those figures translated into 10 assists for Dean Smith’s main man – making him joint-fourth in the league with Son Heung-Min – despite his expected assists being just over 6.5.
A former number 10 himself, Zola is a fan of Grealish and what he offers to both Villa and England.
“I really like Grealish for his courage and his initiatives. Maybe sometimes it could be hard to give him a tactical task because he likes to be creative in every part of the forward front.”, Zola told Stats Perform.
“But he always creates something important and, again, he never flinches. He always wants the ball and creates. These are qualities that will make him even more outstanding.”
Grealish’s ball carrying does not solely create chances from open play either, given he won the most fouls in the final third (41) – seven more than nearest competitor Wilfried Zaha – and regularly offers Smith’s side opportunities from set-pieces, too.
Villa (62) ranked third in the league in terms of chances created from set-pieces behind Manchester United (64) and Chelsea (68), which means Grealish’s direct running offers another facet to the Villans’ attack.
The 25-year-old midfielder may want to add goals to his game, though – while he did net six times last campaign, the positions he gets himself into suggest he should be scoring more.
Contrastingly, however, Grealish outperformed his expected goals (4.65), therefore criticism of his finishing may seem a tad harsh and unwarranted.
With Smith at the helm and with Grealish hopefully staying at Villa Park, Zola saw reason for optimism amongst the Villa faithful.
“Aston Villa are not a random club. They have had a great season and ended in the left part of the table, always improving.”, the former Azzurri forward added.
“They have a very good manager that is making the squad grow.”
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