Dean Smith: Jack Grealish enjoys being Aston Villa's marked man

Dean Smith claims Jack Grealish relishes being a marked man after the Villa skipper admitted the last three matches have been his toughest of the season.

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish

Grealish believes opponents are now giving him more attention than ever before as they seek ways to limit his influence.

The 25-year-old has already scored six goals and set up 10 more this season but experienced arguably his quietest night of the campaign in last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Brighton.

Grealish said: “If I am honest the last three games have probably been the most difficult.

“Only because I feel, especially in the West Ham and Brighton games - and a little bit in the Arsenal game - the opposition teams are set up to stop me.

“They have doubled up on me massively and followed every movement I do.

“But that is down to me. It is up to the good players to do something different. I’ve a good enough football brain to be able to adapt.”

Such sentiments were echoed by Villa boss Smith, who thinks his captain has a proven track record of finding answers to any questions posed by opposition teams.

“I think Jack has always been a marked man ever since I have been at the club,” said Smith.

“Teams have their own plan for him, as we would for top players at other teams. He has usually come up with ways to get round their plans for him.

“I actually find with Jack he wants to come up with solutions. That is what gets his juices flowing, to come up with a solution to a problem he encounters. More often than not, he comes up with one.”

Plenty of focus will again be on Grealish on Sunday when Villa host Leicester. The visiting team will contain James Maddison, another of England’s exciting creative players who is often cited as a rival to Grealish in the international set-up.

But the interest for Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate is not only limited to those two, with Tyrone Mings, Jamie Vardy, Ezri Konsa and Harvey Barnes all likely to be involved.

Smith believes the latter, who like Grealish operates predominantly on the left wing, may actually be a closer comparison to his skipper than Maddison.

“I think it’s fair as they’re playing in the same position at the moment. Harvey Barnes has been doing brilliantly this season,” said Smith.

“Everyone knows how I feel about how well Jack’s been doing. There’s a fair comparison to be had on how well both of them have done.

“There’ll be plenty of duels with Mings and Konza against Vardy. We have a British base of players anyway - they’ve got some good English players too. That makes for a really interesting game.”

Villa’s 1-0 win at the King Power Stadium in October, courtesy of Ross Barkley’s stoppage time winner, remains one of their best results of the season.

Another victory tomorrow would ensure they remain firmly in the race for European football, while once again showing their ability to bounce back after an underwhelming performance.

Smith was content to write-off the toothless showing at Brighton as simply a collective bad day at the office but admits his team have recently struggled for consistency, in part due to last month’s coronavirus outbreak which briefly halted their season.

“We had 10 days without training due to the Covid outbreak. Then we went into six games in 18 days,” he explained.

“It has been difficult to build any kind of consistency when you are not training and just recovering.

“Part of that was expected and we have just been doing our best to work on it and make sure we get a good performance level for the players.”

Kortney Hause remains sidelined with a foot injury, while Smith is hopeful Wesley can now make solid progress on the long road to recovery from a serious knee injury after resuming non-contact training. The Brazilian striker has not played for nearly 14 months.

Right-back Matty Cash, meanwhile, is expected to miss between three to four weeks with a hamstring injury sustained in the draw at Brighton. Ahmed Elmohamady is set to deputise, with Sunday just his second Premier League start of the campaign.

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