Alan Hutton was brutally honest when asked what Dean Smith has brought to the Aston Villa side, revealing that Jack Grealish can play with much more freedom than he ever could under Steve Bruce. Grealish failed to score and made just one assist in 11 Championship games before Bruce was sacked, but the 23-year-old has since contributed two goals in four under Smith.
Hutton believes this is no accident, telling Aston Villa’s official website: “There’s a big emphasis on pressing, getting to the ball quicker and winning it back quicker. That, of course, is going to allow us to get forward more. It’s been intense, but we’ve taken to it well. We’re enjoying the hard work.
“We’re fitter because of it – we do it every day in training. The new system gives the likes of Jack Grealish and John McGinn freedom and the opportunity to express themselves. It’s definitely good for me and the rest of the defence if we can give these players the ball, so that they can go into the final third and show what they can do.”
Smith made it clear that he wanted more from Grealish in the final third. For a player that operates between the lines and gets forward on a regular basis, the playmaker’s stats are somewhat underwhelming. Since rising through the youth ranks to the Villa first-team in 2013, the England u21 international has scored and created 27 goals in 127 games – one goal or assist every 4.7 games.
Grealish had a slow start to the season but looked back to his best against Bolton Wanderers on Friday, November 2. The midfielder signed a long-term contract extension over the summer and could take his game to new levels if he heeds the advice of his manager. Smith wants to see him making runs in behind the defence to get more goals and it worked against Bolton.