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Dean Smith and the emperor’s new clothes

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Dean Smith took a lot of people by surprise when he said that Aston Villa were a better side without Jack Grealish, following the midfielder’s move to Manchester City.

Perhaps the Villa boss was trying to draw attention away from Villa supposedly being a one-man team, but all his sentiments did was put his role as manager under even more scrutiny. After all, if Villa were indeed a better team, then the results would show. 

It goes without saying, but a disappointing 3-2 loss against newly promoted Watford on the opening weekend of the season wasn’t the best way to prove that Villa were a lot better off without Grealish. Worryingly for Villa, the Premier League relegation odds price the Hornets as one of the favourites to go down at odds of 11/10. But then again, you can’t read into early season results too much. 

Indeed, even if the Premier League tips predict that Watford are likely to go down next spring, they may end up surprising everyone this season. In most cases, the opening weekend’s results are six of one and half a dozen of the other with any early predictions normally proving to be wholly untrue and premature in the long run. With that being said, history tells us that Villa’s battle to win without Grealish suggests that Dean Smith and his men may be fighting towards the bottom of the table this season. 

Indeed, Villa fans may want to close the browser now, given that we are about to look back at the club’s win percentage over the course of the 2020/2021 season with and without Grealish in the team. 

All in all, Jack Grealish appeared in 25 games for Aston Villa last season and during those matches, Villa won 14 times and enjoyed a win percentage of 56%. Furthermore, the team scored 43 goals and averaged a barnstorming 1.8 points per game.

Now, Villa had to make do without Grealish for 17 games last season due to a shin injury which saw them lose nine times and only manage four wins. Dean Smith’s men netted as few as 18 goals with the most concerning stat being that they only mustered 0.94 points per game without Grealish. 

Perhaps a better way of putting that is 0.94 points over the course of 38 games will give a team 35 points, which normally sees them relegated from the Premier League. 

This isn’t a one-off scenario either, given that if you were to think back to February of 2019, Villa were languishing in mid-table and four points off the playoff spots in the Championship. The club’s form had tailed off dramatically after Grealish got injured in a clash with West Brom in December 2018. 

Grealish returned in February and Villa would go on to win ten consecutive games for the first time in their history, which led to a promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs. 

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Dean Smith’s management has been built on Jack Grealish’s genius and now that he’s left Aston Villa, people may see that the emperor wasn’t wearing clothes all along.