Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley could become a dominant pairing in the Premier League. The duo has the tools to terrorise teams.
We could look back at the 20/21 season and see Ross Barkley as the signing of the season. Not even purely for his own strengths but also for what he brings out of Jack Grealish.
Aston Villa have a fantastic pairing on their hands. It’s one that could see them compete in the top half of the Premier League this season. Early signs certainly suggest that’s the case.
On the face of it, Villa have just signed a second no.10. That’s not necessarily a good thing, as Grealish plays that role so well. But both players want to drive from midfield, both players want to make things happen in the final third, and both players want the ball.
That risks confusion in attack. It also risks leaving one or both players unhappy as they can’t both have the ball and they can’t both be the main man.
It also isn’t usually beneficial to have two players trying to do the same thing in roughly the same space. There’s no variety there and you become predictable.
But in Grealish and Barkley, Villa have two players who are similar but, importantly, different in the right ways.
Grealish, for instance, thrives in tight spaces. He wants to jink in and out of defenders, win free-kicks, and walk the ball into the box. He wants defenders to retreat or foul him.
But Barkley is slightly different. He wants to run with the ball, too, but he prefers driving into space as an unstoppable force. He wants that space to get a shot off from distance or to run through players.
And we saw on Sunday how unstoppable all of that is. Late in the game, as Villa chased a winner, Grealish was twisting and turning in the box to find space for a shot. Nothing came of it.
But his constant attempts to do so helped push Leicester back into their box. That retreat left space in front of the box and Barkley used it to perfection as he scored from range.
Now, that scenario won’t play out exactly like that every week but it’s an example of what’s to come. In short, Barkley and Grealish are similar enough that Villa can play a style of football that suits both but different enough that they’re almost impossible to defend.
You can’t set your team up to stop one without giving the other what he wants. Tighten up and you leave space for Barkley to drive into. Cover the space and Grealish can isolate defenders.
If all goes to plan, Villa will have one of the Premier League’s deadliest partnerships.