Dean Smith declared that Aston Villa’s 4-1 loss to Leicester was their biggest setback of the season.

Jamie Vardy scored a brace either side of goals from Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans to condemn the hosts to defeat, despite Jack Grealish’s goal.

Smith was frustrated with the way they allowed the game to open up – claiming Leicester didn’t outclass them tactically.

“We were too open and they were clinical,” he admitted to Match of the Day. “It became a basketball game and they were more clinical than we were.

“The lads don’t give up, they kept going. Leicester are a good team, they have confidence but we felt we could have a go.

“There wasn’t much tactics involved, Vardy has gone over the top a couple of times and scored. We have a lot of lessons, we are still growing.

“That is the biggest kick in the teeth and set back we have had.”

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City and United clash in a huge Manchester derby with lots at stake for both sides. Follow it live on our score centre…

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Jack Grealish was the best player on the pitch when Aston Villa drew 2-2 at Old Trafford last weekend. No-one else on either side could have scored that beautiful goal; very few players in the Premier League could have. Reports of his current buyout clause range from £30million to £70million. But just how much is Grealish worth?

As he picked the ball up on the left of the area, he already knew what he was going to do. His opponent Andreas Pereira had no idea. Earlier in the game – in a similar position – Grealish went to the byline and pulled the ball back with his left foot and on another occasion played a slide rule pass to his overlapping fullback.

A cunningly laid trap or fateful coincidence? What came before made little difference to the majesty of the goal Grealish was about to score, but was vital in creating the doubt that enabled him to do so.

The Villa midfielder didn’t look at the ball until the final point of contact – the whipped shot into the postage stamp located at the corner of post and bar. Before then he took three almost imperceptible touches, focusing his gaze not on the ball but avidly on Pereira’s feet, knowing the Brazilian would make the first move. And at the merest hint of motion from the midfielder towards the byline, Grealish made his own move, cutting in on his right foot to score one of the memorable Old Trafford goals, in front of the Stretford End.

Jack the lad – revitalised and much improved – is back.

First impressions are hard to shake, particularly when they are entrenched through a series of tabloid news stories that support the initial suspicion. But don’t be fooled by the slicked back hair, fake tan and low-slung socks that remain: this is a very different Grealish to the one relegated from the Premier League in 2016.

He’s still the cocky, brash, well-preened Brummie icon. But now, instead of using his sculpted calves to strut the length of Broad Street, he’s using them to glide past defenders and put them on their arses, like a Chris Waddle of old or a George Best of older.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was predictably asked about rumours linking the 24-year-old with a move to United post-game and gave the stock manager response of not being able to “talk too much about other teams’ players”, while simultaneously eulogising over him. Pep Guardiola has described him as “exceptional”, while everyone else remains bemused by his exclusion from the latest England squads. Speculation linking him with a move away will roll on in line with the exponential improvement in the maturity and calibre of his performances.

Villa use him in a roaming role, starting from the left. It’s not his most effective position or the one he wants to be playing, but one that utilises his talents in the way that serves Dean Smith’s side best: a team that lacks creativity needs their most inventive asset as close to goal as possible. But despite the position he plays for Villa, his aesthetics and the perception they’ve created, he’s much less a show pony than a conductor.

He’s not quite a Jorginho or Fabinho, but still the player capable of controlling the speed and direction of the football his team plays. A Big Six side would likely use him as a number eight, a position from which he could use his dribbling expertise to build attacks from deep and not necessarily deliver the final ball, but more often the pass before that killer blow.

To Villa, the question of how much Grealish is worth and how much Premier League football is worth are one and the same. With him they sit 15th in the table, one point above the relegation zone. Without his three goals and four assists – which if anything belittles the worth of his all-round game – they would be level on points with Norwich in 19th.

Letting him go in January would be tantamount to football treason. He’s more Villa than Harry Kane is Spurs or Trent Alexander-Arnold is Liverpool. Grealish is the lifeblood of his football club, and he – along with the fans – will fear what would happen should he up sticks and follow the lure of Champions League football – where his talents belong.

Tottenham have come closest to luring Grealish away, with the man himself admitting his head had been turned in the summer of 2018 with an offer on the table from Spurs. But when the north London side were unwilling to increase their £25million offer to £32million, the deal fell through and Grealish remained at his boyhood club.

If Villa now offered Grealish to any club with the means to spend £32million on the Birmingham-born midfielder, he’d be gone before you could say “Peaky Blinders”. He’s a ready-made leader with extraordinary talent, now without the can he do it in the Premier League? caveat or previously lingering doubts over his commitment to his profession. This is a footballer capable of more, but understandably tied to the club and community that have given him so much. He won’t be there forever, Villans, so just enjoy him while you can.

Oh sorry, what’s he worth? F*** knows…a lot.

Will Ford

 

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Rafa Benitez completely transformed Liverpool during his six years in charge of the club in the 2000s – and we celebrate that wonderful period in the latest episode of The Broken Metatarsal.

Rich, Mark and Pete are joined by comedian and Liverpool fan Adam Rowe on this week’s podcast as we remember Benitez’s arrival in 2004, the rivalry with Chelsea, that memorable night in Istanbul, and the team that went so close to winning the title in 2009, featuring the brilliance of Fernando Torres.

Neil Mellor also joins the boys on the phone with some brilliant stories, including how he nabbed an AC Milan runners-up medal after the first final against Milan.

And, as always on The Broken Metatarsal, the episode finishes with a game of Fact or Fiction in which Rich attempts to work out which of Mark, Pete and Adam’s unlikely stories about Benitez are, in fact, true.

If you love 2000s football as much as we do, you can find us on Audioboom and subscribe in all the usual places on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, CastBox, Deezer and RadioPublic.

Or you can just listen to the latest episode right here.

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Chris Sutton thinks that Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish would be good signing for Arsenal after his good start to the Premier League season.

Grealish has three goals and four assists in 12 Premier League starts this campaign, including a wonderful strike in Villa’s 2-2 draw against Manchester United at the weekend.

And Sutton thinks the top teams in the Premier League will be sitting up and taking notice of his start to the season with speculation now linking him with United.

“Look, I think people will be scrutinising him closely now,” Sutton told the Metro.

“Last season he was very good in the Championship. I actually think the penny has dropped with him where a couple of seasons ago it was fair to say he was ‘Jack the Lad’ as such.

“You know, he’s captain of Villa now, he’s knuckled down as such. There was always that question mark over him where he was very, very talented on the ball but did he have the application and the work rate?

“He’s shown that this season and I think – obviously it was a brilliant goal the other day at United – eyes were being opened anyway with him and I do think that it’s one of those where if he carries on like he is and does it for a longer period then it’s only a matter of time because he’s always had the talent. Now we’re seeing the application week in week out.

“Which of the top-six teams would he fit into? I suppose it’s a difficult one when you think of the players City have at their disposal, the Silvas, De Bruyne… Arsenal would be the one where you think there’s a vacancy. Tottenham, Dele Alli seems to be having a resurgence.

“I think in many respects with Grealish he just needs to do it for a bit longer and, of course, Gareth Southgate must be watching him and scrutinising him closely. The disadvantage which he has on the likes of James Maddison is that James Maddison has done it for a longer period of time in the Premier League but there’s nothing you can do except sort of say with Grealish is praise him this season.”

 

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Aston Villa manager Dean Smith believes John Terry’s mentality as a “serial winner” with Chelsea is having a galvanising effect on his players.

Terry spent 20 years at Chelsea before joining Villa, initially as a player in 2017 for a season before switching to coaching, helping the club return to the Premier League under Smith.

During a glorious career with the Blues, Terry won the Champions League, Europa League, five Premier League titles, five FA Cups and the League Cup three times.

For the first time since leaving Chelsea, Terry returns to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night on the opposing side, plotting to help Villa boss Smith as his assistant head coach.

“He’ll be excited for it,” said Smith. “He always said he would never go back and play against them, and I’m certainly not going to pick him!

“I’m sure he will get an unbelievable reception from their supporters, and rightly so, after the playing career he had at that football club, and his ties he has.

“He’ll be looking forward to going back, and I’m sure it will be a little bit different for him, but his mind has been solely on helping myself and the rest of my coaching team to try and beat the club he loves.”

Smith believes Terry has had a significant impact with Villa during his time at the club to date.

“He’s very important and I love working with him,” said Smith. “He’s brought something different to our coaching set-up, with his knowledge, his experiences.

“He’s lifted the Premier League title enough times, as well as the FA Cup and the League Cup. He was a serial winner for Chelsea, so he knows how to win things and that mentality can rub off on people.

“I also feel he’s come into his own with us getting promoted into the Premier League. He’s getting better and better as a coach.

“I’ve championed him for a long time, saying he will eventually be a top manager. At the moment he’s very keen to keep learning and making a major contribution to Aston Villa, certainly on the coaching pitches.”

 

 

Smith is naturally hoping Terry will continue to learn for as long as possible before making the inevitable move into management.

“We’ve a good enough and an open enough relationship for him to come to me at any time,” added Smith.

“I don’t expect it in the meantime because he’s enjoying the job so much at the moment, and the important thing is he feels he’s still learning as well.

“He has a thirst for learning, a real growth mindset, which I really like to see in people. He is always asking me questions about why I make certain decisions.”

Smith will be without winger Anwar El Ghazi for the game at Chelsea due to a knee injury sustained in Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Manchester United but midfielder Jota returns after a two-month absence following hernia surgery.

 

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Mauricio Pochettino admits he is “open to listen to projects” amid speculation linking him with a number of roles.

The Argentinian was sacked almost a fortnight ago after five years in the job following Spurs’ slump in form, before being swiftly replaced by Jose Mourinho.

Pochettino took the north London club to the Champions League final last season, where they were beaten by Liverpool in Madrid.

The 47-year-old has since been linked with Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League while elsewhere in Europe he has been reportedly interesting Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

Pochettino told Fox Sports Argentina: “There are a lot of clubs and attractive projects for me to take on.

“At my age I don’t need a lot of time to recover. I am open to listen to projects put before me.”

A report on Monday poured cold water on links with United and Arsenal by suggesting Pochettino would lose his £12.5million pay-off from Tottenham if he accepts another Premier League role this campaign.

 

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Leicester will hope to pile the pressure on Marco Silva while keeping up the title chase on Everton’s Merseyside rivals with victory on Sunday.

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Steve Bruce has picked out the “excellent” Newcastle duo of Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron as they grabbed a 2-2 draw against Manchester City.

Jetro Willems cancelled out Raheem Sterling’s 15th goal of the season but Kevin De Bruyne thought he had won it with a fine 82nd-minute strike.

But Jonjo Shelvey curled home a brilliant 87th-minute equaliser which, coupled with Martin Dubravka’s stoppage-time save from Sterling, ensured the game finished level.

And Bruce was full of praise for two of his front three, he said: “Allan and Almiron today were excellent in their work. You’ve seen three quality goals and we’ve got two of them.”

Asked about his side’s performance, Bruce added: “When you take on one of the big boys it’s always nice to get something from it.

“Their attitude and effort and endeavour in terms of their workrate and to keep getting after the ball, it’s manful in terms of how they do it.”

When asked if the atmosphere at St James’ Park was a bit flat, Bruce continued: “It would have been nice to get some of the ball to give them something to shout about!

“They’ve witnessed their team rolling up their sleeves and showing a bit of determination. The fans were superb at the end.”

 

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Gary Neville has labeled Arsenal’s recruitment strategy as “truly pathetic” after Unai Emery was sacked.

The Spaniard was fired on Friday morning after the loss to Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday night took Arsenal‘s winless run to seven matches.

And Neville thinks the players have “let him down” while the club’s “recruitment policy” has not been good enough.

“I don’t know who’s been responsible for recruitment over the last two or three years, they’ve chopped and changed, there have been new people brought in,” Neville told Sky Sports.

“But if I was in the boardroom at Arsenal I’d be giving them a right rocket. There’s no way Emery is telling David Luiz to step up two or three times, there’s hideous things you see from the other defenders and midfielders.

“You think of [Granit] Xhaka the other week, Emery is a man of honour and you see that behaviour, this is much deeper than the coach. Emery might be sailing his way back over the Channel this afternoon and be very happy to leave behind what is, quite simply a very average bunch of players.

“There’s no way Unai Emery was telling the players to do those things. Some of the things we were seeing on the pitch were fantasy football really.

“Without a shadow of a doubt the players have let him down. The manager will take the hit, it’s his responsibility to place them into an organised shape, but some of those players – I’ve been critical of my own club over the last few years for their recruitment policy and their strategy, but Arsenal’s is truly pathetic.

“You couldn’t find a more erratic bunch of players in terms of defending to watch. If you said to find three or four most erratic defenders in Europe, it’s almost like that’s the brief for recruitment. The players have let him down but some of them aren’t up to it.”

 

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