Grealish’s comeback has been a long time coming, with the captain picking up where he left off more than 12 games ago with a series of menacing dribbles towards Everton’s goal.
His 20 minute cameo was not to be that fairytale comeback he could have been with Villa defense instead of eliciting applause for their 15th shutout of the season.
BirminghamLive Aston Villa Correspondent Ashley Preece was inside Villa Park for last night’s 0-0 draw and, with Crystal Palace next, here are his big talking points:
GREALISH’S SHINY SLEEVES LEAVE YOU WANT MORE
Now there was a moment that made me smile under my face mask and that was when Grealish picked up the ball pretty close to his half and dribbled and dribbled… and dribbled.
He didn’t score like he did against Rotherham this time around, but, with little space, he decided to keep the ball knowing that four or five Everton yellow shirts legged after him.
Just seconds after arriving, Grealish pulled three players out of the game when he slipped Matt Targett for a cross.
The skipper simply wins the opposition as if he was Moses leaving the Red Sea. No wonder his teammates all took to social media to say “Welcome back, Captain! “
Villa is half the team without Grealish – and that’s just a fact. What will be a priority next season will be adding a caliber of player who can, dare I say it, rival Villa’s star man in terms of importance.
SMITH POINTS ‘COMMENTS ON BARKLEY’S SUCCESSOR THE NEXT SEASON
Now on that specific point comes a discussion about Ross Barkley. The game creator made his final appearance at Villa Park last night knowing he was not eligible to play against parent club Chelsea in the final game of the season.
Barkley was a signing of what could have been and last night it was Dean Smith who said what we all know and this is how Jacob Ramsey will be seen as Barkley’s replacement, so to speak, the next season.
Barkley has started 18 off Ramsey’s five this season and, uninvited last night, head coach Smith praised Ramsey’s impact after the teenager replaced Barkley with just over 25 minutes to do.
“JJ (Jacob Ramsey) lifted it up a bit with a bit of quality and energy,” he said twice, Ramsey having fun posting 20 touches compared to Barkley’s 47 despite it being last has 64 minutes against 26 for Ramsey.
Ramsey showed a little flair and was brave enough to face Abdoulaye Doucouré, much stronger.
You have to say that’s it for Barkley now with Smith reaffirming last night that Barkley will return to Chelsea this summer.
As for Ramsey, Villa strongly believes he has impressed in the Premier League in his big breakthrough season.
DAVIS FIGHTS ON THE GRAND STAGE, A LOAN MOVEMENT IS NECESSARY
On Ramsey, his mate Keinan Davis had his big chance to shine last night and unfortunately failed to take it as brutal as it sounds.
The 23-year-old looked awkward and lacked confidence whenever he had time on the ball knowing his minutes were limited this season.
To be fair to Davis, he sometimes held the ball well when he had Michael Keane, Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate to face. Villa was lackluster in the final third with Villa wingers – and Barkley – disappointing to say the least.
It was a shame for Davis who looked rusty knowing it was his first 90 minute game since October 1 against Stoke City in the Carabao Cup.
As I have said countless times, the former non-league forward will be on a league loan next season to really help his development. Davis is due to play Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday to find the pace needed to perform at the highest level.
Villa has a decision to make on Davis’ future this summer. He can’t afford the few 10 minutes here and there from the bench. Additionally, Watkins has proven just how tough he can be, so, once again, Davis’ first team opportunities will be limited. I would love to see what he can do for a Derby County or someone like that.
THE VILLAS ARE IN SURE HAND FOR MORE REASON THAN A
Back to more positive topics and a quick nod to Villa defense and, in particular, Emiliano Martinez. The Argentine was in good shape again last night with his saves to deny Ben Godfrey and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to ensure Villa returns to Bodymoor Heath with a point.
Martinez has been the signing of the season as there isn’t much better ahead of him than Matt Targett, Ezri Konsa or Tyrone Mings. Matty Cash is still a work in progress, but it will come next season.
What is fair to say is that Villa is in good hands next season for more than one reason. I really hope the guys at the back can break Villa’s clean sheet record knowing they need more for 16/38 clean sheets. What a record that would be given to Villa leaked goals for fun just 12 months ago.
DOUGLAS LUIZ PROVE A POINT
And finally, let’s talk about Douglas Luiz. The Brazilian has come under fierce criticism this weekend after his mistake against United. However, this time he was back with the bit between his teeth.
Douglas posted a lengthy speech in his Villa tracksuit ahead of the team’s meeting at Villa Park as he looked determined to right the wrongs on Sunday afternoon.
Douglas played confidently here and took advantage of the most touches on the 27 players on the pitch with 84. Matt Targett (74) and John McGinn (72) were the next best with Allan and Doucoure scoring just 52 touches in comparison.
Douglas’s passing accuracy was 92.7, the highest for those who completed 90 minutes. Then Smith said, “It’s really important. Tonight it was good. He kept the ball going but I think he can sometimes be a little more progressive on the ball.
“In the last five minutes he’s played two forward balls on the spin and put (Everton) under pressure and we want to see that a lot more. “
Now, as I said on this week’s Claret & Blue podcast, Pep Guardiola knows a player when he sees one after signing Douglas for City. “He’s an important player for Aston Villa. A guy who’s smart with the ball, so physically strong, ”Pep said.
The midfield ace will start from here. He just needs a little rest while I’m sure we’ll see the best of Douglas Luiz next season and beyond.