Jack Grealish will miss Aston Villa’s trip to Liverpool on Saturday, with manager Dean Smith admitting they “tried to push him” for an early return, forcing a setback.
Grealish has been Villa’s top performer this season, with the 25-year-old scoring seven goals and laying on 12 assists in 23 appearances so far, directly contributing to five goals in the 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool in October.
But the England international has been sidelined since mid-February with a knee injury, casting doubt over his chances of making Gareth Southgate’s squad for the Euros.
His absence has coincided with a downturn in form for Villa, too, with Smith’s side winning just two of the seven Premier League games their captain has missed so far, losing three.
Villa remain hopeful of finishing in the European places at the end of the season, but while they have a game in hand over Liverpool heading into the weekend, they can no longer leapfrog them with a win.
Ahead of the trip, Smith confirmed that Grealish will miss the game, having suffered another setback in his recovery.
“Jack had a setback last week. Myself and Jack were probably a little too optimistic trying to get him back,” the manager told reporters on Friday.
“He wanted to be back for the Tottenham game and we tried to push him for Fulham but he’s had a setback which will probably keep him out for a few more weeks. We need to de-load him.”
Villa will also be without long-term absentee Wesley on Saturday, though defender Kortney Hause is expected to return to the squad following a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Otherwise they have no major issues, but the loss of Grealish hampers their chances of taking a result from Liverpool, with Villa writer Crippy Cooke underlining his importance in an interview with This Is Anfield.
“I think Grealish is the best player Villa have ever produced,” Cooke explained.
“He is good enough to join any club in England, as well as every side in Europe outside of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
“He’s a brilliant playmaker with great vision who is difficult to wrestle off the ball without fouling, not to mention making good defenders look amateurish with how easily he ghosts past them.
“He creates the most chances, has the most take-ons and contributes the most goals, either by scoring or assisting
“Without him, we struggle to break teams down.”