Fulham-Aston Villa Preview
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Dean Smith acknowledged Aston Villa's performances in Jack Grealish's absence have not been up to scratch, as he prepares to welcome back his captain for Sunday's match with relegation-battling Fulham.
Grealish has been out of action since February with a shin problem, and Villa have won just one of the six games he has missed.
However, with Grealish having trained fully over the international break, Smith is hoping his team's displays start to tick up once more.
"Yes he certainly is, he's trained all week," Smith said when asked if Grealish would be available. "He's only had a few sessions, though, but he seems in good nick and seems fit enough. So, he's certainly put himself up for selection, which is a good thing for everybody.
"The performances over the last six weeks haven't been what they have been previously. If anyone loses the player with the calibre of Jack, as has been seen by plenty of other clubs, then you are going to struggle a little bit, but it is going to be a big boost to have Jack back and for the players as well."
After claiming a huge win at Anfield at the start of March, 18th-placed Fulham have lost their last two games. And Scott Parker knows that, even if Grealish is not at his full sharpness, Villa still have plenty of quality at their disposal.
"We understand the quality of the player in Grealish and what he brings to Villa," he said. "These are the challenges you need to embrace, putting yourself up against the best and seeing if we can compete and get the better of them, while we also understand the quality (Grealish) brings, along with (Ollie) Watkins, along with (Tyrone) Mings, all these players."
Aston Villa – Jack Grealish
Parker may be right to namedrop Villa's other England internationals, but there is no doubt Smith's side have struggled without their talisman, who has scored six goals and provided 10 assists in the league this term. His return is a major boost.
Fulham – Bobby De Cordova-Reid
De Cordova-Reid is Fulham's highest scoring player in the Premier League this season with five goals. No side has a lower scoring top scorer in the competition this term (West Brom and Wolves also five).
• Villa have used the fewest different players (21), made the fewest starting XI changes (31) and have the youngest average starting line-up (25y 225d) in the Premier League this season.
• Since netting the winner against Arsenal in February, Villa's Ollie Watkins hasn't scored in any of his last seven Premier League games, with the striker failing to score with any of his last 17 shots in the competition. However, he did net on in his England debut against San Marino last week.
• Fulham have the biggest difference between expected goals (34.1) and goals scored (23) in the Premier League this season, netting 11 fewer goals than expected based on the quality of their chances.
• Villa have won just one of their last seven Premier League games (D3 L3), failing to score on four occasions in that run. The Villans had only failed to score in three of their first 21 league games this term.
• Eleven of Aston Villa's 12 Premier League wins this season have seen them keep a clean sheet, with the exception being their 7-2 victory over Liverpool in October. Indeed, since that victory, the Villans have lost 11 of their 13 games in which they've conceded at least once, drawing the other two.
Updated April 2, 2021