Jack Grealish is once more in the headlines after making his first competitive start for England and putting in a starring role in Sunday’s defeat to Belgium in the Nations League.
The 25-year-old has come to prominence being the talisman at Aston Villa; helping steer them to promotion in 2019 and then playing a starring role in helping Dean Smith’s maintain their top-flight status last season.
Grealish has enjoyed such success because he has combined his wonderful natural footballing ability with grit and determination, coming through the physicalities of the Championship and accustomed to opponents targeting him with fouls.
The England international is not a playmaker in the most traditional sense of playing as a ‘number 10’. He has played in that position just once this campaign while his other seven starts have come from a left-sided role in attack and most commonly on the left-side of a three-pronged attack.
Villa most commonly play a 4-2-3-1 with Grealish on the left of a three-pronged unit of advanced midfielders behind central striker Ollie Watkins.
However, where does Grealish rank in the Premier League ’s list of playmakers and which of the leading clubs in the division where he would start?
Bruno Fernandes is the star man for Manchester United, who were keen on Grealish this summer in the transfer market. But Fernandes' actual on-pitch position does not clash with Grealish.
The Portuguese maestro plays in a central role – either in the ‘number 10’ position or as a box-to-box midfielder – in a 4-2-3-1 system, similar to what is deployed at Villa Park.
Indeed, Marcus Rashford is the forward who is usually deployed in the left-sided attacking role and the striker has been developed into more of a creator under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Grealish would certainly have no problem playing in the same team as Fernandes, although his position would be more closely aligned to Rashford’s and Paul Pogba – who plays further back the pitch but occupies a similar left-sided position.
Jurgen Klopp has stuck with a 4-3-3 system at Anfield through his tenure as Liverpool boss, but has moved towards more of a 4-2-3-1 this season to accommodate new signing Diogo Jota.
Grealish would fit easily into either system but the issue would be that he is most positionally similar to Sadio Mane – who is arguably Liverpool’s most consistent and reliable goalscoring threat.
The Reds do not accommodate a natural ‘playmaker’ in their team so Grealish may be ill-suited to the demands Klopp has of his players, whilst the positional clash with Mane would prove problematic to fit both players into the same side.
Another side who switch between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 system, Chelsea are arguably the leading side where Grealish would be least suited due to the personnel already at the club.
Timo Werner has been used in a left-sided attacking role recently while Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic are all capable of playing in the position.
The Blues invested heavily in their attack this summer with Havertz the natural playmaker and whilst he is yet to hit his stride, adding the profile of Grealish would no longer be a priority.
The ongoing saga of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal may prove to be some indication of Mikel Arteta’s attitude towards accommodating a playmaker in his team.
Gunners captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has most commonly been used from a left-sided attacking position this campaign and whilst that has come under scrutiny, it is unlikely this will change anytime soon.
A positional switch could see Aubameyang move into the central role – ahead of Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli – and allow Grealish to occupy the left-sided role.
Spurs were one of the clubs who have had a genuine long-standing interest in Grealish and attempted to sign him when he was still in the Championship with Villa.
Jose Mourinho has switched up his tactics this season meaning Harry Kane has dropped deeper and now operates in a de facto playmaking position, with Son Heung-min – who starts from the left – and Lucas Moura running in behind opposition defences.
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Fitting Grealish into this system would be problematic due to his positional similarities to Son whilst Kane now seemingly has this role.
Pep Guardiola’s teams are always obsessive with creative midfielders and whilst Grealish would be a player greatly admired by the Catalan, any move would be unlikely.
Kevin De Bruyne is the main playmaker and creator at City, while Raheem Sterling occupies a role similar to that of Grealish, although with more of an attacking edge.
There is an argument that the Villa star could help replace the void left by David Silva’s exit but they are another top team whose star players are in Grealish’s position.
Carlo Ancelotti has switched Everton from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 shape this season following the arrival of James Rodriguez this summer, with the Colombian now the main playmaker at Goodison Park.
James occupies the right-side of the side’s new-look attack with Dominic Calvert-Lewin central and Richarlison on the left flank.
The strongest argument for Grealish’s inclusion would be as a replacement for Gylfi Sigurdsson or Andre Gomes, although it would not be a natural fit.
One of the teams who are tactically harder to predict, Brendan Rodgers often switches between formations with a 3-4-2-1 and 4-1-4-1 among his systems.
With such an overload of attack-minded midfielders – including allocating two positions which would be ideal to Grealish – it would appear that the Foxes system would be a good fit.
James Maddison and Youri Tielemans are the main threats from this area for Leicester, and whilst Grealish’s output is arguably higher than both – it would be a struggle to accommodate him into a fine-tuned attacking system.
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