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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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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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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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Unai Emery has hits back at rumours that he has lost the backing of the Arsenal dressing room by insisting they still believe in him.

The pressure on the Spaniard ramped up over the weekend as the Gunners were held to a 2-2 draw at home by Southampton, with Alexandre Lacazette rescuing a point for Arsenal late on.

The Gunners are now six matches without a win in all competitions and sit eighth in the Premier League standings.

Asked in his pre-match press conference whether the Arsenal players still believed in him, Emery responded: “Yes of course. They show that.

“As a coach each moment in my career is difficult. This is a very good but very hard job. When you are winning you feel the support for everybody. I believe in us, I believe in the players. I know I am going to work very hard to come back to the performance.

“I am looking forward to playing tomorrow. The good moment, the bad moment the most important for me is to show my work. Our confidence depends a lot on how we can feel in our stadium with our supporters.

“Teams are coming here playing fearless. We need to be strong and together. We need to show our supporters our capacity and skills.”

 

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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is not interested in “bargain” bids for the Premier League club and remains fully involved at Stamford Bridge, according to chairman Bruce Buck.

The Russian billionaire is not believed to have attended a home match since the spring of 2018, having taken Israeli citizenship after encountering visa renewal issues in the UK.

Plans for a new 60,000-seat stadium were shelved around the same time, but Buck insists Abramovich has no intention to offload the club.

“So far as I know, absolutely not; to the contrary. I have never heard a word from Mr Abramovich: ‘Let’s get this ready for a sale,’ or something,” Buck told the Guardian.

“Because of the political situation, there are people who think they might want to buy Chelsea Football Club at a bargain. We do get enquiries and we really have nothing to say to these people.

“In terms of being involved, in looking at new players, talking about whether to extend players’ contracts, do we buy this player, do we sell this player, (Abramovich) was always intimately involved in that from day one and is just as intimately involved now.

“He talks to Marina (Granovskaia) – the board member who supervises the football operation – several times a day, every day. Marina has been doing that for seven or eight years; that hasn’t let up or changed at all.”

 

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Jose Mourinho turned on the spot, skipped back to his dugout and delivered a short, sharp punch to the air. As he continued his journey, he pumped both fists and channelled his energy towards the pitch, bowing his head and releasing whatever noise was available to him in the moment. It mattered not; the away fans would drown it out anyway.

It had been a while since they had been given much to enjoy on their travels after all. Not since January had Tottenham won a Premier League away game. Boxing Day marked their last such victory against a team still in the top flight.

But for Mourinho, only one thing was on his mind. Much as Mauricio Pochettino made a habit of sharing such instances of unbridled joy with Jesus Perez, the tentative new stepfather made an instant beeline for Joao Sacramento.

You can tell a lot about the nature of a goal through not only how a manager celebrates it, but also how his assistant and coaching team does. If they choose to acknowledge it separately, then it has likely been born of individual error or fortune. If there is a mixture of flailing arms, mouths agape and general indecision as to how to react, then it was liekly a wonder strike impossible to account for or predict. But if they seek out one another instinctively, the chances are that they have seen that pass, that run, that move, that goal before.

It is impossible to know what Mourinho worked on in the three days of preparation for this game. But his embrace with Sacramento for the opening goal suggests any training-ground work involved Harry Winks splitting the lines of defence and midfield with one pass, Dele Alli controlling it with a single touch and playing it through to Son Heung-min with another, and the South Korean beating his defender before planting a shot beyond the keeper.

A minute prior to that strike, Winks again drove an inch-perfect pass through West Ham’s heart and into Harry Kane, whose delightful flick left Alli in space. The deft pass was again intended for Son but Declan Rice was, on this occasion, in place to thwart it. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and by the time the same move was conducted again before half-time, it was clear this was a pattern.

And that should not be underplayed. It is unclear when Tottenham approached Mourinho but it was soon obvious that he has not used the last 11 months to build a friendship with Graeme Souness, develop a taste for humble pie or intently study Tim Sherwood’s fashion sense. He has been working, watching, waiting for his chance to reestablish his relevance.

This is a small step. It was almost a misstep. Tottenham were the better side in a drab opening 20 minutes, excellent for the subsequent 40 then painfully absent for the final 30. West Ham were the perfect opponents to face in these circumstances, and Roberto the single most welcoming host since Des Lynam. “Shouldn’t you be at work?” he asked a prone Angelo Ogbonna, shortly after accidentally punching him in the face to clear a ball that no Tottenham player was challenging for.

But this was progress and, most importantly, different. Mourinho stressed before the game that he does not wish to demolish what Pochettino has built; he is merely here to build on it and offer the project fresh direction and impetus. The small changes – Paulo Gazzaniga not playing it short from goal kicks, a more direct style of play and Serge Aurier looking vaguely competent – were simply new ingredients to an existing recipe.

Dele Alli is a fine example. He has been gradually improving over the past few weeks but, on this evidence, Mourinho can help him take the final steps towards where he once was. And that, rather than drastic, wholesale alterations, will be key.

Mourinho said it himself: this squad is a “gift” for a manager who inherited a broth spoiled by too many cooks at Manchester United and only made things worse. Pochettino has handed down a group of players familiar to one another, moulded to a style and system the new coach appreciates.

Michail Antonio and Ogbonna’s late goals will give Mourinho and his staff rather a lot more to consider than he expected when Kane gave Tottenham a commanding lead in the 49th minute. But there was enough on show to suggest he could be a success.

Matt Stead

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