Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has dismissed any fears Jack Grealish’s injury problems will derail his Euro 2020 hopes.
The midfielder has missed Villa’s last seven games with a shin injury and will sit out Saturday’s trip to Liverpool after suffering a setback.
He was also sidelined for the Three Lions’ World Cup qualifiers last month and is battling to be fit ahead of Villa’s final eight Premier League games of the season.
Grealish did return to training this week but was forced to pulled out, and Smith remains confident his captain – who has five England caps – has already made his claim for a place in Gareth Southgate’s Euros squad.
Smith said: “He’s proved himself already but the one thing for certain is he will be back before the end of the season, and then Gareth has to make a decision whether he thinks he’s right for that.
“He has played 20-odd games this season so everybody has a good idea of what his form is and what he’s about.
“Myself and Jack were quite optimistic to get him back a bit sooner than he probably should and he’s had a setback that will probably put him back a couple of weeks.
“He was really good in training, but he couldn’t tolerate the loading. It’s a loading injury and we have to de-load him over the next few weeks and get him back from there.
“We know it’s not a long-term injury and he will be back. We all, Jack included, probably pushed him back a little bit too quickly. He wanted to get back, we wanted him to get back and he had a little setback.”
Villa sit ninth in the Premier League ahead of their game at Anfield having shocked Liverpool 7-2 in October, but Sunday’s 3-1 win over Fulham is their only victory in five games.
“It’s certainly the best result (of my managerial career), with the quality of the squad and team that Liverpool are, with what they’d done in the previous two seasons,” said Smith.
“Virgil van Dijk was still in the team as well. There was some fortune within that game – we scored three deflected goals but it was an outstanding game. Ollie Watkins scored a hat-trick and he came off disappointed that he should have scored more.
“It was a really top performance and one that we can certainly look back at over time.”
Villa, who have Kortney Hause available after a foot injury, remain in the hunt for Europe and are seven points behind fifth-placed Chelsea with a game in hand.
Smith added: “It would have been unthinkable at the start of the season, having stayed up by the skin of our teeth last season.
“We’ve got to go into each game believing we can finish in that top eight. There’s certainly a will from the players.”