“Although we can see the quality when the evidence of the opponent is a different level, that’s where it’s hard to directly correlate what that’s going to look like at a level above.” – Gareth Southgate
As the England manager alludes, a difficult decision lies ahead for young Jack Grealish who has noticeably taken his game to another level this season for Aston Villa. With Aston Villa’s season heading for its crescendo in the playoff final next week, it’s expected that regardless of the outcome, teams will be fighting over Grealish’s signature. Despite the publicity, good or bad, question marks still hang over Grealish about whether he is as good as the hype that surrounds him. This tactical analysis attempts to answer the golden question of whether the boy from Brum can make it in the big league.
Tactical analysis – So, what’s all the noise about?
On face value, using one-dimensional statistics, Jack Grealish doesn’t stand out. Scoring only six goals in the league, backed up by seven assists doesn’t resemble the quality possessed by the young captain, nor does it demonstrate the effect he’s had on games this season. Football is a more complex sport than just boiling a player down to goals and assists, and without digging further into the numbers, only the naive would insist that Grealish has had an average season.
After investigating the statistics further, the abilities of Grealish came to the fore. Below I have compared key metrics in Jack Grealish’s game and compared them to other top central midfielders in the Championship this season. The analysis provides a detailed insight into what type of midfielder Jack Grealish is, and the reason his shirt comes with a hefty price tag.
Grealish has spent most of his playing minutes in central midfield. Villa have preferred a 4-1-4-1 shape this year, using it on 18 occasions. Grealish slots perfectly into the central midfielder role and is given license to attack by the inclusion of a defensive midfielder. His passing, therefore, is often positive and incisive, which we can see below.
The percentages from the above analysis have been calculated from games only where the player has played over 75 minutes of the match, and only takes into account Championship matches. As we can see, Grealish has achieved the highest successful pass percentage out of any of the players he’s been compared with. His ability to find passes in a highly contested midfield area is a skill which has earned Aston Villa an average possession percentage of 54.72% this season.
Where Grealish really stands out is on the Y-Axis statistic. It is here where we can see Grealish’s ability to play the ball forward and not just achieve a high pass success rate from square and backwards passes. 81.07% puts Grealish way ahead of his league rivals, with Klich the closest at 71.07%.
Translated into real life
So we can see Grealish’s passing ability shines against players in the same league, averaging 2.4 key passes per game. The next graph goes a step further to see how he compared against top Premiership midfielders.
Above I have compared the same two statistics with Premiership midfielders. The parameters remain the same, only including games where the player has played over 75 minutes. The data shows us that again Grealish excels when it comes to keeping possession, with Fabinho being the only player with a better passing success rate (88.12%). In addition, it is Grealish’s forward passing and ability to successfully move the ball through the phases and into the final third that emphasizes his influence.
The obvious caveat to this analysis is the quality of the opposition, which takes us back to Southgate’s point, that it is still largely unknown where Grealish would fare on the graph if the difficulty of the opposition increased. Despite this, we can still draw from the statistics that Grealish is an important link in the midfield. His ability to act as a pivot and fluidly connect the three phases of the pitch allows his team to build attacks often and effectively.
What else can he do?
In addition to his superior passing ability, Grealish is an impressive dribbler of the football, despite not possessing searing pace. The youngster uses this ability to pick the ball up in central areas, often relatively deep, and drive into the final third of the pitch, disrupting defensive structures by attracting defenders to stop him. He then uses his superior vision and technical ability to create goal scoring chances using the space available after his movement.
Using tactical analysis, we can see Grealish’s dribbling has been a constant threat this season, so it’s no wonder he suffers on average 4.6 fouls per game, higher than any other player. In attempts to stop him, team double up and take any opportunity to bring Grealish down. This makes Grealish’s successful dribbling statistics even more impressive. Below the statistics show how Grealish measures up against the other top midfielders in the championship.
How does this compare?
We can see that Grealish is streets ahead of his rivals, including teammate McGinn, who has had a great season himself. Grealish averages 7.08 successful dribbles per match which highlight his confidence and quality whilst running with the ball. Grealish’s blend of awareness and technical ability allows him to travel directly into spaces as soon as they appear.
As we can see above, Grealish outperforms his premiership comparisons. The same caveats apply, with the quality of opposition and the standard of tactics deployed by teams in the Premiership. However, from these statistics, we can derive that Grealish possesses technical ability way above the standard in the Championship and any top division side would benefit from his dribbling ability in attacking transitions. On top of this, his high average of progressive runs (3.58 per match) is a useful escape route for any side under pressure looking to push out from a deep block.
Conclusion – Aston Villa & beyond
Jack Grealish will no doubt avoid answering questions on his future until after the showdown at Wembley. An Aston Villa victory may provide the answers that extended analysis cannot, guaranteeing Grealish his trial in the Premier League. Despite the hesitation, the statistics are there for all to see; Jack Grealish is too classy, too skillful, and too determined to be destined for Championship football. The youthful arrogance Grealish once proudly wore has lifted, and now technical ability and professional maturity are in perfect balance. This player who was once a gamble is now a complete midfielder ready for his time on the big stage.
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