Dean Smith was full of praise for Jack Grealish ahead of Aston Villa’s meeting with Derby County, calling the midfielder “the best player” in the Championship and admitting Villa had missed his “quality” this season. Grealish has been out of action since December 7, coming off late on against West Bromwich Albion.
He’s missed 13 Championship outings and one FA Cup match with a shin injury but should make his long-awaited return against Stoke on Saturday. The 23-year-old has made 22 appearances in all competitions this season, scoring and creating six goals.
Villa have won only 14% of their games without the playmaker and Smith admits that’s because there isn’t a player better than in the second tier than Grealish. He said in a recent interview for the club: “It gives everybody a boost. Results wise, we’ve not been as good without him.
“I believe Jack is the best player in the league and any team that loses that kind of quality would suffer. We’ve suffered a bit, so we’re looking forward to having him back. He’s trained well and has worked really hard to get himself into contention. He’s pushing for a starting spot on Saturday.”
Grealish could start against Stoke, resulting in Jonathan Kodjia dropping to the bench after poor form. Villa’s playoff hopes are dwindling as the wins dry up, so Smith needs to gamble in the run-in. The Midlands outfit are currently 13th in the Championship with 45 points from 34 games and haven’t won in their last five.
Villa are eight points adrift of the playoffs ahead of the Stoke clash.