LONDON – Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish has found out the hard way the consequences of being man-marked in the Premier League but despite the special attention afforded to him by Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, he still put in a commanding performance.
No player has won more fouls in Europe’s top five leagues than Grealish this season and the 24-year-old would have known what to expect after Spurs boss Jose Mourinho repeatedly branded him a "very important player" in the pre-match news conference.
A late Son Heung-min winner separated the two sides at Villa Park but Spurs had done everything they could and failed to prevent Grealish from stamping his authority on the game.
Grealish was fouled off the ball too, but he took the challenges in his stride and created five chances — more than any player on the pitch.
Unflustered, he set about unlocking Spurs’ fragile defence that has kept only one clean sheet away all season.
His assist came from a set-piece, where Spurs could not touch him, as he floated in a corner for Bjorn Engels to head home.
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) February 16, 2020
But Villa’s leaky defence — the worst in the league — proved to be their undoing and it begs the question whether Grealish, who took the captain’s armband last year during their push for promotion, has taken them as far as he can.
Villa’s spot in the Premier League is in jeopardy despite spending more than 140 million pounds ($182.21 million) on transfers and yet their best player has been their own youth product.
Manager Dean Smith said the club, 17th, was "working very hard to ensure our best players stay" but Grealish’s precocious talent will have top sides circling, especially if Villa are relegated once again.
Grealish has gone from strength to strength in the league this season, with seven goals and six assists — more than any other English midfielder — and it is hard to see how England boss Gareth Southgate can afford to ignore him any longer.
Southgate has worked with Grealish with the Under-21 team but mentioned last year that he was competing with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho for a place in the national squad.
But with the former two sidelined with injury, Grealish certainly has a foot in the door before next month’s international break.