Scouting Report: Jack Grealish
Jack Grealish has started the season like an absolute house on fire, and has quickly found himself (well…. “quickly” depends on who you ask) as a key player in the England set up.
In this article, we’ll analyze Villa’s talisman.
Name: Jack Grealish
Age: 25 (Born 1995)
Club: Aston Villa
Rookie Season: 2015 Rookie Card
About Jack Grealish
I’m going to be completely honest here. I didn’t sit down tonight expecting to write a scouting report on Jack Grealish.
I know that he’s having a great season…. well, a great few seasons, and is a part of a surprisingly good Aston Villa side.
In fact, he’s one of my favorite players in the Premier League, and I think he’s an absolute jet. However, he still wasn’t someone I was intending on writing about.
But I was doing some digging, and it was Grealish’s underlying numbers that really caught my eye.
Before we touch on those though, here’s a little about the player just in case you haven’t seen him play a lot.
Grealish is a midfielder/attacker that plays on the left, but is right-foot dominant - showing that he likes to cut in and play centrally too. Here’s his career heat map. As you can see, he does most of his damage on the left, but is still used in the middle.
However, this is his heat map for the 20/21 season.
Obviously, there’s less color because of a small sample size, you but can start to see that it’s far more dominant towards the left-hand side of the pitch. It’s also slightly higher up the pitch too, with the deepest reds of the heat map for his career being closer to the center of the pitch.
A lot of that positioning comes from the formation that Villa are playing this season. It’s almost a 4-2-3-1, with Watkins up front.
Other midfielders put in a bigger shift defensively, allowing Grealish to always be in a great attacking position.
This gives him opportunities to use that run and carry game, but more about his dribbling later on.
First, those underlying numbers I was talking about….
I was looking to find some attacking players that offer a lot around the ground but still get into the opposition penalty box as much as possible.
Basically, trying to find a midfielder that gets in positions to score (or shoot good shots) and get assists.
To do that, I filtered the following numbers throughout the top five European leagues - and only used data from this calendar year:
At least six attacking actions per 90 minutes
Four touches in the opposition box per 90, at a minimum
About five dribbles a game or more
Five expected assists for the year
To be honest, I thought that would spit out a list of decent players who take the game on (high amount of dribbles per game), offer a lot around the ground (attacking actions), play some killer balls (xA), and get in good positions (touches in the box).
However, the list was a lot shorter than I thought.
That’s it… only four players.
And I’ll tell you what… that’s some pretty good company to keep. Some might be surprised to see Mahrez there too, but remember this is for the calendar year, and Mahrez was in fine form last season for City.
One name from that list of four that stood out to me was Sadio Mane. He’s one of my favorite players to watch, and the two remind me of one another in some ways. Mainly their ability to collect the ball and run at defenders from the left, and create havoc in the opposition box.
And this season it rings true. When attacking, Grealish is basically a better passing and worse shooting version of Sadio Mane.
Having said that though, his shooting is getting a lot better too. Let’s take a look at his shot chart from open play throughout his career. You can see that there’s a few things that really take over when looking at the chart:
There’s a lot of shots outside the box. Remember, these are all open play, so there’s no free kicks here.
There’s a lot of blocked shots from the left-side of the penalty box
Speaking of shots from outside the penalty box, there’s an awful lot of them… and they’re a little to wide to cause any real threat
There’s some close-range shots where he misses the goal completely
Now, check out his open play shots this season. Obviously it’s small sample size, but we can see the following already:
Less shots outside the box
More of those shots inside the box, on the left-hand side, are a little more central
Missing fewer shots completely
He still tends to get blocked a lot in that same area as before, but the shots are coming in a bit more narrow-in, which helps his xG, and I’m sure contributes to his higher-than-normal goal tally this season.
However, on the down side, his actual assist numbers are about double his expected assist numbers, so I wouldn’t expect his Villa teammates to continue to keep their levels of finishing where it is.
One thing that definitely helps Grealish though is his ability to find those pockets of space.
He always seems to be in space when he collects the ball.
This gives him the option to either run and carry, or lay off a pass to a teammate. Grealish’s passing is smart. He’s always looking for the diagonal/through ball to progress past a defensive line. Like this play here, he could have easily carried the ball a little more but instead he waited until the perfect pass was there.
Grealish is always a player that finds space and draws in defenders, that’s a reason why he’s fouled so much. I’m sure that ability is aided this season with Grealish’s positioning, as we discussed earlier.
In fact, Grealish’s ability to find those pockets of space is almost Muller-like. Thomas Muller is always in space, and is smart enough to make the right decision when he gets the ball.
And as you can see, this season, their underlying attacking and build-up numbers are very similar.
I’ll tell you what, Mane’s ability to run and carry at defenders mixed with Muller’s ability to find and use space…. no wonder why Grealish has been the talk of the Premier League.
Seriously though… Grealish is a very exciting player, and I think he could absolutely dominate the Premier League and star for the National team in the next twelve months if Southgate selects the right side around him and let’s him cook.
What’s Next for Jack Grealish?
100%, the goal for Jack Grealish should be to continue his current rate of improvement. Grealish has developed his game later than most, and is still improving looking at his numbers this season compared to last.
For him, it’s to continue to play well and make that spot for England in the upcoming Euros his own.
I’d assume that Grealish will be in all the transfer talks this season, especially because he’s not cup-tied with Villa being a basket-case last season. I’d like to see him stay though. Like I said, he needs to cement that spot for England, and he’s already in the team playing for Villa - so a move to Man United (for example) has a lot more potential to go wrong than it does to go right mid-season.
There’s a very good chance England’s attack can be built around Grealish if he continues to play like he is this season.
And besides, I actually think Villa might be better than Man U this season - there’s a long way to go on that though.
Jack Grealish for Collectors
Grealish is one of those young guys that isn’t really a prospect anymore. He’s 25, and beginning what should be the start of his prime - So it’s unlikely that he’s ever going to be a true World Class superstar.
However, his cards are at a pretty good price point when you consider he’s one of the best players in the Premier League this season and in a really good club situation.
Sure, he’s not in the ‘big six’, but he’s in a team that’s performing well and is built with Grealish’s strengths in mind. And Villa aren’t a small club historically by any means.