Half-space king: Just how good is Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish?

Jack Grealish Aston Villa Tactical Analysis Statistics

He’s the player everyone loves to hate. Aston Villa fans adore him, opposition fans loathe him. However, after that goal on Saturday, just how good is Jack Grealish?

Style of play

Grealish is an excellent passer and dribbler who dictates the tempo of games and is the heartbeat of this current Aston Villa side. As an Aston Villa fan and season ticket holder, I’ve had the pleasure to watch Grealish closely and see his development from a wide left-sided playmaker to a central midfielder who dominates games, playing in a midfield three he has become the master of the half space.

grealish heat map this season

As shown above, he regularly operates on the central left-hand side drifting in-between the spaces behind the opposing midfield and just in front of the defence. Fleet-footed and direct, Grealish drives at teams with the ball at his feet, drawing opposing players out of position and then having the intelligence to lay the ball into the vacated space.

For a player who operates in the final third and tries many forward passes, to have a pass success rate of 88% is very impressive. Normally those sorts of numbers come from centre-backs or defensive midfielders picking easy passes in the start of a build up, not playing the tricky final ball or the ball that breaks a back line.

Teams in the Championship struggle to cope with the talented Englishman’s tricky feet and play style, resulting in him being the most fouled player in the league. In fact, he’s been fouled 112 times in just 22 games, an average of 4.87 per game. For context, the excellent Wilfred Zaha gets fouled an average of three times a game and he’s come out regularly bemoaning the lack of protection from referees, something Villa manager Dean Smith has echoed about Grealish.

Grealish has a swagger and guile about him and makes the game look effortless, his play style is very similar to Andres Iniesta in that he is also excellent in half spaces and glides past players without having exceptional pace. Although a long way from the heights the little Spaniard hit, the similarity between the two in playing style is statistically similar.

This season

Grealish is on course to have his best season to date, so far he’s scored three and assisted four, a figure you would expect to increase in a Villa team now geared up to attack under Smith. He also has four second assists to his name, which means he has 11 goal contributions in 22 games, an impressive total for a midfielder often singled out for close attention by opposing teams. With 2.2 key passes per 90 and 1.8 dribbles per 90, it demonstrates a player who really drives his team on in the final third always looking to create an opportunity.

The Englishman currently sits in the top five best players in the Championship via WhoScored with a match rating of 7.37. He’s also in the top five for dribbles per game and passing accuracy, and also just outside the top five for key passes per game.

His importance to Villa has only been highlighted by them winning just two games in his 13-game absence due to a shin injury. Grealish is showing remarkable maturity in the centre of the park this season, which has been recognised with the captaincy given to him on his return to the side. With the playmaker back in the starting 11, Villa looked like the team they were at the start of Smith’s reign, with Grealish providing a pre-assist and that stunning volley.

grealish stats this season

The future

Despite the fact Grealish splits opinions with many fanbases across the land with people accusing him of diving and “not being that good”, he is actually very good. At only 23, however, there is plenty of room for development. His goals although normally spectacular, aren’t regular enough for a player of his calibre and he should get more assists to his name as well.

It’s yet to be seen if Grealish can produce at the highest level on a regular basis, but a man of the match display in a FA Cup semi-final as a teenager and the fact there was reported interest from Chelsea and Tottenham last summer shows the calibre of player he is.

If Grealish continues to develop at the pace he is currently the sky really is the limit, any team would benefit from a player who possesses the ability to take players on in the centre of the park and who can receive the ball in tight areas. At international level, England lack a player of his skillset with only really Ruben Loftus-cheek and Phil Foden who can play in a similar way, both of whom lack game time at club level.

Villa fans will hope the Holte End hero can propel them back to the Premier League where undoubtedly his talents deserve to be. Whatever does happen it’s been an absolute pleasure watching his progression from promising teenager to a young man captaining the club he supports.