After making his return from injury last time out in the Premier League, Jack Grealish must surely make Dean Smith’s starting line-up for Aston Villa’s clash against Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon.
The England international had missed the last twelve games in the top-flight with an injury, and given the number of weeks it took to see him finally back on the pitch, there would have been understandable fears about him missing the entire season.
But, the 5 foot 10 star came on for the final 18 minutes of the 0-0 draw against Everton, and while he couldn’t help inspire a late winner, should start from the off when Villa take on Roy Hodgson’s men.
Speaking after that Toffees game, Smith said: “I think (Grealish) had one mesmerising run where he had five or six Everton players chasing him and you thought it might be one of them days where he comes on scoring the winner.
“It’s really good to have him back. It’s small steps at the moment but it’s great to have him back out there. We’ve got three games now in the next 10 days and we’re hopeful Jack will play a part in all three of them games. Whether it’s Tottenham or Chelsea, we’re hoping to get 90 minutes out of him.
“He’ll be as fit as can be. He’s a naturally fit player anyway. He’s continued to work on his CV (cardiovascular) with a little bit more off feet and, in training, you don’t see a lack of fitness in him, that’s for sure.”
If Grealish is fit, then there’s no questioning he simply has to start against the Eagles, with the influence he has on this Villa side untold – in the 12 games that he missed, the side won just three games, and have completely fallen out of serious contention to finish in a European place.
Former Villa player Paul Merson raved about the kind of quality Grealish brings to the table, saying: “He’s a special player. He’s the best three or four-yard passer I’ve seen in the game for a long time. People will go ‘three or four-yard passes’, but you watch football when it comes back and see how many people roll the ball to a full-back and they have to take a touch or someone goes on the overlap and they kick it out of touch.
“It is always a pitch perfect ball, that three or four-yard ball and for me he is a special player. Very comfortable on the ball, very gifted.”
Given their recent form, bringing Grealish back into the starting line-up could well be a real game-changer for Villa.