Jack Grealish takes part in a huge Birmingham derby this weekend, with Aston Villa set to have their season defined by a single result.
Lose against the Blues and it effectively ends their slim play-off hopes. Win, and they’re right back in the mix. It’s a winner-takes-all encounter in which bragging rights already belong to Dean Smith’s side. They beat Birmingham 4-2 earlier in the season and would love a repeat of that performance.
For Grealish, it is a second derby in three matches. He was injured against West Brom in December and only came back to action during the 4-0 thrashing of Derby County. He scored a wonder goal in that game, but it hasn’t marked him out for special attention.
Garry Monk has claimed his side will not be targeting Grealish specifically during the game, leaving the attacker as just another member of the Aston Villa side they’ve got to deal with.
From the 23-year-old’s point of view, that could work in his favour. If he’s given time on the ball he can be devastating, but he’ll know not to take those words lightly.
Not targeting him doesn’t mean giving him a free reign though and the tackles will still come in hard and fast.
If anything, it ramps up the psychological pressure on Grealish. If he doesn’t play well, by virtue of being marked by one man properly, it’ll look bad as they weren’t even targeting him,
If he plays well, then they didn’t give him special treatment and it’s to be expected.
There’s also the worry it could affect the player’s mentality. If he’s told that’s he isn’t special, could it affect confidence? Birmingham City haven’t marked him out as a key player as such, but maybe he thrives on that.
His goal against Derby came in a week where all the talk was about his return, has Monk stifled the one thing that feeds into his performances, the praise and adulation?
It’s a clever ploy from Monk and Grealish will know he has to focus solely on the game, not the comments made by the opposition manager or the perceived lack of concern they have over his ability.
The only thing that matters is the result, because if Villa do sneak into the top six and then by some miracle the Premier League, Jack Grealish could well stay put.
If they do go up, Garry Monk won’t get a chance to target him next season, unless the FA Cup draw throws them together of course.