Jack Grealish is expected to sit out of Saturday afternoon’s Championship clash with Stoke City due to a shin injury, leaving Dean Smith with a decision to make on who to select in his stead. Aston Villa have plenty of midfield options in Mile Jedinak, Glenn Whelan and Birkir Bjarnason, but there’s no like-for-like replacement on the bench who can operate in Grealish’s signature advanced playmaker role.
What’s most likely is Conor Hourihane being pushed higher up the pitch from deep-lying midfield and Whelan being handed a start alongside John McGinn. The former has contributed eight goals in 20 league games this season and should enjoy less defensive responsibility against Stoke. Hourihane is more technical in possession than agile on and off the ball, but he can still unlock defences with his excellent vision.
Villa will want to bounce back quickly after dropping two points against West Bromwich Albion and victory over Stoke could see them go within a point of the playoff places if results go their way. They’ll certainly be feeling the loss of Grealish, but Smith should be confident that his side can get a win against the Potters regardless.