Crystal Palace-Aston Villa Preview

·3 min read

Roy Hodgson was England manager when Jack Grealish switched allegiance from the Republic of Ireland, though never got time to give the Aston Villa star a chance.

Having played for Ireland as a boy, Grealish elected to play for England in April 2016, appearing in that year's Toulon Tournament.

Hodgson was manager of the senior team at the time, though not for much longer – he resigned following a 2-1 defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016.

Grealish has gone on to become a star for his club and made his England debut earlier this season, impressing for Gareth Southgate's side in his appearances since then.

Villa face Hodgson's Crystal Palace team on Boxing Day, and the Eagles boss is thrilled with Grealish's development.

"I always believed in him," Hodgson said. "I've been impressed by the constant improvement over the years, and in particular the last two seasons. I thought last season he was very good and showed a different maturity and level to his game. If anything, he's kicked on further this year. Now he's the first one on everyone's lips when you're preparing for a match against Villa, because he's somebody you know you're going to have to try and stop or at least limit the good things he can do during the game."

Villa boss Dean Smith, meanwhile, is delighted with the turnaround in fortunes his team have managed over the course of 2020.

"It's been a weird year for everybody. Nobody's been through a pandemic before, so there's been a lot of new things that have happened," Smith said."Maintaining our status as a Premier League club was very important to us. The work that we put in after the March period was really important to that.

"The turnaround in confidence at the football club has been really good to see. Long may that continue."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Aston Villa – Ross Barkley

Smith is hopeful Barkley will be able to feature on Saturday having overcome a hamstring issue. The midfielder started well at Villa, but has been out since sustaining an injury early on in a defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion last month.

Crystal Palace – Nathaniel Clyne

Ex-Liverpool defender Clyne has scored three of his four Premier League goals against Aston Villa, netting with three of his seven shots against the Villans. With his other 88 shots in the top-flight, he has scored just once, against Liverpool in August 2014.

KEY OPTA FACTS

• Villa have won two of their last three Premier League games against Palace (L1), as many as they had in their previous 12 against them in the competition (W2 D5 L5).

• Palace have never scored more than once in 17 away league games against Villa (W3 D4 L10), netting 11 goals in total in that run.

• Villa have kept seven Premier League clean sheets so far this season, more than any other side and as many as they kept in the whole of 2019-20. The Villans have not conceded in any of their last three Premier League games, last having a longer run of top-flight shutouts in February 2010 (four).

• This will be Palace boss Roy Hodgson's 341st Premier League game in charge, overtaking Rafael Benitez into the top 10 for all-time games managed in the competition.

• Villa's Anwar El-Ghazi has scored three goals in his last three Premier League games, as many as he had in his previous 34 in the competition.