Belfast Telegraph

Grealish blew me away with 2015 heroics, reveals Rodgers

Calling shots: Jack Grealish (left) and Fabian Delph celebrate as Aston Villa stun Liverpool in the 2015 FA Cup semi-final
Calling shots: Jack Grealish (left) and Fabian Delph celebrate as Aston Villa stun Liverpool in the 2015 FA Cup semi-final

By Nick Mashiter

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers is out to avoid more semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Jack Grealish.

Aston Villa skipper Grealish inspired his side to a shock 2-1 FA Cup last-four win over Rodgers' Liverpool in 2015.

It was the last time the Foxes manager has suffered a domestic cup defeat, and Leicester host Villa in a Carabao Cup semi-final first leg tonight.

The Ulsterman is unbeaten in 30 cup games - having won the Scottish Cup twice and claimed three Scottish League Cups with Celtic - but knows the threat Grealish poses to his record.

"I came away that day (2015) thinking, 'What a player that boy is'. You are playing at Wembley with about 90,000 and he really stood out," said Rodgers.

"He was drifting in and he showed he had the personality to play on the big stage. I always knew him as a talent but I thought in that game he had the ability to play on the big stage and he was outstanding.

"He is a fantastic talent, and people compare him to James Maddison but he is totally different. They both have individual qualities but they are different players. Great skills, great ability.

"Look at James, he is playing as a central midfielder. He not only attacks and scores goals but he also presses the game. Young Jack has a different role in the Villa team but he is a big talent."

After Villa's relegation in 2016, Grealish struggled for consistency until this season, where he has scored eight goals in 21 outings.

As skipper he helped Villa to promotion back to the Premier League last term and Rodgers has been a fan ever since Grealish masterminded his downfall at Wembley.

He said: "To be fair to Jack, you have seen the maturity in him, and it was difficult when he broke through because he was playing for his hometown club, the club he loves, so there was real emotion around it.

"He has broken in, lots of people are hanging around him and everything else, but after they got relegated he took on a greater responsibility, showed a leadership role with the club and has helped bring them back up.

"With Dean (Smith), who has the connection to Villa, he knows what it means to work for the club. He has matured a lot since the time he was a talent and looks like he has fully developed physically and is a wonderful player."

Aston Villa boss Smith, meanwhile, has hailed the hunger in the eyes of Danny Drinkwater as a key reason behind the midfielder's loan capture until the end of the season.

The long-term absence of John McGinn, who is not expected to return to action until late March after fracturing his left ankle, forced Smith's hand to sign a replacement in the mould of the all-action Scotland international.

Although Drinkwater's career has stalled since a £35m move to Chelsea in the summer of 2017, Smith has no doubt the 29-year-old can recapture the form that helped Leicester win the Premier League title that year, and led to the big-money switch.

"Everybody knows about him from his Premier League-winning season with Leicester," said Smith. "He got the move to Chelsea and it didn't work out.

"Then he had a loan move to Burnley this season and he probably hasn't played as many games as he would have liked, but from meeting him I liked the hunger - I saw it in his eyes."

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