By Jacob Panons
With Brighton and Hove Albion set to host Aston Villa at the Amex on Saturday, there is sure to be a focus on one man and that is Jack Grealish.
The midfielder has been a glimmering beacon of hope in what has been a relatively underwhelming season for the Villains and it has attracted interest from the country’s elite.
Grealish has been no stranger to transfer speculations since he broke into the Villa side at the age of 19 but this month has seen reported interested from both Manchester City and Manchester United.
Although it appears unlikely that the Villa youth-product will move before the end of the season there is a chance his head will be turned.
Graham Potter will be hoping Grealish’s mind is elsewhere on Saturday as the attacking midfielder has already scored twice against Brighton this season.
The 24-year-old first struck the back of the net in Brighton's 3-1 loss against Villa in the League Cup thanks to a superb volley before coming back to haunt the Seagulls in the Premier League at Villa Park three-weeks later.
Despite the Villains winning in both of their encounters against the Albion, their season has somewhat derailed since then with the club currently sitting in the relegation zone although just three-points behind Brighton.
If Villa are going to avoid the drop this season it will almost certainly be down to Grealish who has made up for lacklustre performances from a number of players despite the club investing an estimated £133m over the summer.
Grealish leads his side in goals (six) and assists (five) but one of Grealish’s most dangerous traits is his ability to draw fouls.
This season he has been fouled on average almost five-times a game which indicates how dangerous he can be once he gets the ball.
Potter will be hoping his team can stop Grealish without giving away too many fouls - when he is in motion there are very few players in the league who can stop him.
His influence on Villa is also clear to see as he has more assists this season than James Maddison, Bernardo Silva, and Mesut Ozil.
This is why the club captain has played all but two-games of Dean Smith’s side’s Premier League campaign.
If Grealish features on Saturday, it will see him be the most featured player for Villa this season in terms of minutes and it is looking like he might have his work set out for him.
The Midlands-club also have a plethora of injuries to deal with which will see first-choice ‘keeper Tom Heaton and record-signing Wesley miss Saturday’s match-up.
With a few less potential threats to worry about, Potter will be brainstorming ways of stopping Villa's main man.
Many opponents have resorted to fouling the midfielder to keep him at bay but this can obviously lead to suspensions as Aaron Mooy unfortunately found out to his cost after receiving a red card during a painful 2-1 loss at Villa Park back in October for a rash challenge on Grealish.
Albion could try man-marking Grealish as his most recent goal against the Seagulls came from the midfielder drifting through the defence to scuff the ball in from a couple of yards out.
Although this may be harder than it sounds as he is so elusive on the pitch and often manages to find a way to get into space despite being man-marked.
Both sides will be aiming for a crucial win on Saturday as they look to lift themselves away from the drop zone. How Albion deal with the threat of Grealish will be key to the outcome.