Jack Grealish ran Manchester United ragged in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford and showed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer what he is missing.
It was clear from the very first whistle when Andreas Pereira cynically hacked Grealish down that United didn’t have a game plan to combat the threat Villa’s captain posed, apart from attempting to kick him off the park.
Grealish wasn’t affected by the special treatment, he is used to getting brought down. In fact he is the most fouled player in the Premier League (53), and is currently averaging 4.4 fouls sustained per game. For context Wilfred Zaha is second in the charts with 3 fouls per game.
Grealish was also the most-fouled player in the Championship last season with 161 fouls.
Grealish ran the game and United had no answer. The players either backed off and gave him too much time on the ball or recklessly dived in and gave away cheap free-kicks.
The 24-year-old fits the profile of player United are looking to build a team around. Young, British, creative and has his best years ahead of him.
Grealish has been directly involved in seven goals in the Premier League this season (three goals and four assists); the most of any English midfielder.
His goal against United highlighted the technical ability he possesses. It is very rare that you see David de Gea scrambling and stranded, the Spaniard had no chance as the ball curled into the far top corner.
It is those moments of inspiration that the Old Trafford crowd have become starved of by their own team in recent years.
Where would he fit in for United?
Grealish’s versatility and quality would significantly bolster a Manchester United midfield that requires a major makeover.
Grealish has quick feet and uses those skills to negotiate tight areas and get away from defenders, he loves to pick the ball up deep and drive forward, putting the opposition on the back foot.
He drifted in off the left-hand side on a number of occasions against United looking to get on the ball and create chances.
Only Kevin de Bruyne (4) , Trent Alexander-Arnold (3.4) and Lucas Digne (2.8) are averaging more key passes than Grealish (2.7) this season.
After Paul Pogba (2.6), who has only featured five times in the Premier League, Pereira is second on United’s list when it comes it key passes per game (1.3) for our midfielders.
There is no denying that United’s attacking trio need to be more proactive with their movement, but they also need an injection of quality and creativity behind them to link the play together and carve open goalscoring chances on a regular basis.
Grealish has created 30 chances from open play in the Premier League this season, only De Bruyne has created more (35), Villa’s captain is the elite playmaker United require to enhance their chances of no longer coming unstuck against smaller clubs and threading passes between the lines.
Should United prioritise Grealish?
Ideally Solskjaer would love to sign James Maddison, but as United continue to falter and slip down the league, Leicester go from strength to strength and look nailed on for a top four place barring a dramatic drop off in form.
It is going to take an almighty turn around for United to change their fortunes and close the gap on the top four places.
United’s best chance of getting back into the Champions League is going to have to be through winning the Europa League.
Maddison may want another season with the Foxes, potentially a debut campaign for him in the Champions League, and to see how the club develops under Brendan Rodgers, before making a decision on his long-term future.
United cannot afford to put all their eggs for the number 10 position in the Maddison basket. Grealish’s main focus this season will be keeping his beloved Villa in the top-flight and breaking into Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad.
United fans are not in a position to get greedy, but with Grealish able to play in centre-midfield, there is more than enough room for both Maddison and Grealish in this United team.
Solskjaer needs a number of signings to get the club back on track. Starting with Jack Grealish would be smart. He passed his audition on Sunday.
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