Should we expect more from Jack Grealish?

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The beautiful game often divides opinion, and Jack Grealish is one of those players who often stirs up plenty of debate.

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Aston Villa’s captain is obviously a genius, but after another frustrating result for his hometown team, how has he fared as a regular in the Premier League?

Joe Prince-Wright and Kyle Bonn watched the same game on Monday, as Aston Villa and West Ham drew 0-0, but both of our writers have very different opinions on Grealish. That is why we love this game, and talking about it.

Let’s see what JPW and Bonn thought about the English midfielder.


JPW: So, I want to start by saying Grealish can pretty much do anything with the ball. He is a magician and his clever passes and flicks will win Villa plenty of points this season. But he needs to do more, and fast, to have a big impact this season in the Premier League. Against West Ham he gave the ball away cheaply and his hurried finish late on summed up another off night for Grealish. He isn’t a youngster anymore. He’s 24 and needs to deliver, otherwise Villa will be in trouble at the wrong end of the table this season. Villa play well when Grealish performs and he’s just not doing it for me.

Bonn: Grealish can’t be the sole creative force in this team. He’s a fabulous do-it-all player for Villa, and clearly their most valuable asset, but this team has serious issues up front and that can’t all fall on Jack’s shoulders. He was excellent against West Ham, controlling possession and bringing the ball forward. He got a bit frantic and panicked slightly after the red card, but without a clear presence on the wing and a black hole at striker, Aston Villa needs to get him help rather than heap more attacking pressure on the 24-year-old.

JPW: I think one of the biggest issues is that Grealish is doing a lot of his work 50 yards from goal. Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz aren’t offering much in central midfield and a trio of McGinn, Hourihane and Grealish seems better balanced to me. Grealish just took too much time on the ball, was too predictable and Mark Noble and Declan Rice easily won the midfield battle. I think Villa can get the best out of Grealish by starting him just off Wesley in a much more advanced role. What is Grealish’s ceiling, though? Maybe a decent PL midfielder and a very good Championship player is his level. If that’s it, there’s nothing wrong with that. I just think Villa want more from him.

Bonn: If he’s a decent Premier League midfielder, that’s perfectly acceptable at this point for Aston Villa, and they need to support him. He was the team’s most creative presence against West Ham, and while you’re right that he wasn’t able to control the midfield battle with Rice and Noble, he still provided far more contribution forward than Jota in front of him, or even Anwar El Ghazi on the opposite flank. Who was the one making runs in behind the defense to deliver crosses? Grealish. Who was the one charging at defenders with purpose? Grealish. I know he missed that chance towards the end against West Ham, but he was the only one even pushing for that ball. The rest of this team needs a kick in the tail, and Jack is the one to provide that. While he’s still not a finished product – something we’ve admittedly been saying about him for years now – that fire and spark has value and it’s slowly producing results on the pitch, at least far more than anyone else in this squad. I’m not saying he should start for England, but he’s the most consistent presence Villa has at the moment, and that’s saying something. Get him some help, and he can be a consistently dangerous presence against most Premier League sides.

JPW: There’s a reason Grealish hasn’t broken into the England national team yet. His consistency in the final third just isn’t there. I asked Dean Smith about Grealish after the game, and he said the quality on his final pass wasn’t there, but pointed to the cross for Wesley’s early header. That is the most annoying thing about Grealish. The quality, like he showed on that cross, is there. But he’s made the same mistakes over and over again early this season and I want to seem him learn from that and develop. Remember, this is a player Tottenham Hotspur wanted to replace Christian Eriksen last summer. Is he on that level? Maybe in a top six team he’d be better around top quality players, but I’m not sure he’d play on a regular basis. I’ve seen him twice in the flesh this season and on both occasions I’ve walked away very disappointed.

Bonn: I absolutely agree he wouldn’t play much on a Top 6 side. I don’t think that’s a fair barometer for him at this point, though. Villa doesn’t need a Christian Eriksen. With Marvelous playing well, I thought, at DM and McGinn somewhat positive on the other side, Grealish is in a good spot. He just needs better support up front so he doesn’t receive the bulk of attention. I like where his trajectory is pointed, given what I saw against West Ham, and I hope Villa gives him the tools he needs moving forward.

JPW: I would loved to be proved wrong, but I don’t see Grealish hitting double figures in goals or assists this season. If you’re going to be the main playmaker on a Premier League team, you need to hit those numbers as well as the fancy flicks. Quick final question: Who else can play in Grealish’s position for Aston Villa?

Bonn: You mean of the players currently in the squad?

JPW: Yep. Who comes in for him?

Bonn: Nobody.

JPW: And that is the problem. Villa have no back-up plan. If Grealish doesn’t rip it up, they are going to be in a relegation struggle. At the moment he is not, and they play Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United in five of their next 10 games.

Bonn: We saw the same last season with Fulham. Tom Cairney is a similar player in a similar position. He didn’t have the season the Whites needed from the main midfield playmaker after destroying the Championship, and that was a death sentence.

JPW: We both agree Grealish is crucial to Villa’s success then. But we disagree about his current play. And that, right there, is why we love this game. Nobody is wrong, but I’m right Kyle, I’m right…

Bonn: We shall see!

JPW: Indeed. Enjoyed this. I’m off into the Birmingham night to dodge some Villa fans who have no doubt read this by now. Wish me luck.

Wolfsburg’s Mbabu out of Europa League after virus positive

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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) Wolfsburg defender Kevin Mbabu will miss his team’s Europa League last-16 game against Shakhtar Donetsk after he tested positive for the coronavirus last month, the club said Monday.

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Wolfsburg coach Oliver Glasner said the Switzerland defender would “definitely” not travel with the team to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to play Shakhtar on Wednesday. He has not been training with the team, Glasner added.

Wolfsburg said July 25 that Mbabu had tested positive and was in isolation at home. He was not displaying symptoms, the club said at the time.

The right back played 20 games for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this season, including 90 minutes in all nine games after the league resumed in May amid the pandemic.

The Europa League restarts Wednesday after a break of nearly five months. The second legs of last-16 matchups will be played at the original venues.

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Two fixtures where the first leg wasn’t played before the season was suspended – Inter Milan against Getafe and Roma against Sevilla – will be played as single-leg contests in Germany.

From the quarterfinals onward all games will be played in a tournament format in Germany.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Transfer news: Thiago to Liverpool; Gabriel to Man United

Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool
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In transfer news there’s an update on Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool, while Gabriel to Manchester United seems to be moving to the next stage.

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Starting in Liverpool, talk of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool has been gathering steam over the last few weeks and a new report states that Jurgen Klopp’s men are now the favorites to sign him.

Bayern Munich expect the 29-year-old Spanish international to leave this summer and according to Mundo Deportivo Liverpool have jumped ahead of Paris Saint-Germain and are ‘very likely’ to sign the former Barcelona star.

Bayern want $35 million for Thiago who has one year left on his current contract.

The deep-lying playmaker is a totally different central midfielder to what Liverpool currently have as Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are all hard-working more defensive minded players. And then there’s Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who provide a bit more attacking intent with forward runs from central midfield.

Thiago Alcantara would help Liverpool control games better when opponents sit back and don’t allow them space to operate in-behind. He is a silky pass-master who is wanted by PSG, Liverpool, Manchester United and others, but it appears he will be heading to Anfield to give Liverpool a totally new dimension to their play. If this happens, it will make an already strong Liverpool side stronger.

Gabriel to Manchester United
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Switching to Manchester, a report in France states that Gabriel Magalhaes could be heading to Manchester United.

The Brazilian defender, 22, has been a star for Lille over the past few seasons but has been linked with Arsenal, Chelsea, Napoli, Everton and Man United consistently in recent months.

A report from French outlet RMC states that Man United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has met with Gabriel’s agents about his availability.

Lille want $35 million for Gabriel and although the report says that Man United haven’t made an offer directly to the Ligue 1 club, it is believed talks are ongoing.

Man United are said to be in the market for a winger, center back and central midfielder this summer and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to be given cash to spend after securing Champions League qualification for next season.

It is believed Solskjaer wants a left-footed center back, which Gabriel is, as Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire are often too similar at center back. Those two have developed a decent enough partnership but it appears that Solskjaer wants to replace Lindelof and adding Gabriel will also give him an option to switch to a 3-4-3 system which he likes to do to match up against  more attack-minded opponents.

Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are very much on the outside looking in at Man United in terms of their other center back options.

With Jadon Sancho reportedly on his way to Old Trafford, Solskjaer needs to bolster his center back and holding midfield options and then he is good to go for next season.

Gabriel is a young, talented center back and seems ready to make the next step and this is a good price for a player who can develop over the next few seasons.

How long of a break will Premier League clubs get?

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How long of a break will Premier League clubs get? That is the big question during the significantly shortened offseason between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season.

In short: not long.

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When Premier League clubs all agreed that the 2020-21 season would kick off on September 12, there was an understanding that clubs in European action will be handed extra time off and could start the season late.

Manchester City and Chelsea are in Champions League action and if they reach the quarterfinal stage (Man City are looking a lot more likely to do that than Chelsea) it is expected they will start next season one week late and if they reach the semifinals and final they will start two weeks late.

The same rule is in place for Manchester United and Wolves who are in Europa League and are both in Round of 16 action this week.

If Chelsea lose to Bayern Munich on Saturday, their season will be over and they will have a 35-day break before the 2020-21 season. That is longer than the 30-day limit but Frank Lampard wants longer.

As for the other 16 Premier League teams for the 2020-21 season, the clubs who finished on the final day of the  2019-20 Premier League season on July 26 will have had 47 days off until the new season begins.

So, there you have it.

A staggered start to the 2020-21 season seems likely as the domestic campaign begins in a few weeks with the Community Shield final at Wembley between Liverpool and Arsenal on Aug. 29.

Premier League teams will have shorter, more intense preseason campaigns and are unlikely to travel for friendly games, so it will be interesting to see how much rest players actually get over the summer and if teams who get a 2-3 week longer break benefit compared to those clubs in European action.

Christian Pulisic issues injury update

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‘Pulisic injury news’ is probably trending worldwide at this point, and Chelsea and USMNT star Christian Pulisic has an injury update after he damaged his right hamstring in the FA Cup final against Arsenal on Saturday.

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Pulisic, 21, scored a superb goal early on and was arguably the man of the match even though he pulled up abruptly in the 46th minute when sprinting free (once again) of the Arsenal attack and then hitting a shot wide.

After being helped off the pitch while clearly in pain, Pulisic was seen hanging around the tunnel area after the FA Cup final and was at least walking on his own.

Posting a message on Instagram following the final, here’s what Pulisic had to say:

“Gave it everything we had. Wasn’t our day. Thank you guys for your support I’ll be back in no time,” Pulisic said.

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The fact Pulisic went off injured early in the second half of the FA Cup final severely hampered Chelsea and gave Arsenal the impetus to go on and win the final at Wembley. He has become that important to Chelsea.

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard previously confirmed that Pulisic would not be fit enough to play at Bayern Munich on Saturday in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg (Chelsea trail 3-0 from the first leg) and would have a scan to assess the damage.

Pulisic’s 2019-20 season is now done and both Chelsea and USMNT fans will be waiting with bated breath for the next injury update as hamstring injuries can be a nasty thing and reoccur easily.

The USMNT star had a few of them at Borussia Dortmund and given his incredible pace it is clear he will be more susceptible to hamstring and upper leg injuries.

Previously Lampard revealed that Pulisic had been working hard with Chelsea’s strength and conditioning coaches in recent months to build up his strength in order to adapt to the Premier League. We’ve certainly seen the results of that work in recent week as he took the Premier League by storm during the restart.

This latest update from Pulisic seems to be very good news as many had feared a lengthy injury layoff for the USMNT star but it seems like he may be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season for Chelsea.