Ollie Watkins struck a first-half hat-trick and Jack Grealish starred as Aston Villa claimed an incredible 7-2 victory over Premier League champions Liverpool on Sunday. 

Liverpool were without first-choice goalkeeper Alisson due to a shoulder injury and paid the price for some shambolic defending at Villa Park, with John McGinn adding to Watkins' treble in a rampant opening period for Dean Smith's men. 

Mohamed Salah doubled his tally either side of deflected goals for debutant Ross Barkley and Grealish, who contributed three assists in a brilliant display. 

Grealish added another as Villa had unending joy in springing the offside trap against Liverpool's high line, with the Reds conceding seven for the first time since a 7-2 loss to Tottenham in April 1963. 

Adrian's hopes of keeping a clean sheet were dashed within four minutes when his wayward pass to Joe Gomez was seized upon by Grealish, who squared for Watkins to slot home. 

Liverpool did not get a penalty for McGinn's contentious challenge on Salah, while Emiliano Martinez saw a similar error to Adrian's go unpunished before Watkins latched onto another Grealish pass and fired into the top-right corner. 

Salah halved the deficit, yet Villa's two-goal cushion was restored two minutes later when McGinn's wickedly deflected volley found the bottom-left corner. 

Watkins completed his treble before the first half was out by turning home Trezeguet's cross and former Everton midfielder Barkley extended their lead 10 minutes after the restart, aided by a significant touch off Trent Alexander-Arnold. 

Salah swept in a cool finish in the 60th minute but any hopes of a late charge were quickly extinguished by a Grealish strike that hit Fabinho to wrongfoot Adrian. 

Adrian managed to stop Watkins netting a fourth before Grealish made the most of a baffling decision to try to catch him offside on the halfway line, scoring his second. 

Watkins rattled the crossbar in the 85th minute but Liverpool were already set to suffer one of the most remarkable defeats in Premier League history. 

 
What does it mean? A first for Klopp 

Villa were in searing form and became the first team to put at least four goals past Liverpool in the opening half of a Premier League game since Klopp took charge in October 2015. 

In fact, the only time the Reds have conceded four in the opening period of a game in any competition during the German's tenure came on the same ground, when they went down 5-0 to Villa in the EFL Cup quarter-finals. 

However, on that occasion it was a second-string line-up and Klopp was not even in the dugout, as the first-team squad were away at the Club World Cup. 

Glorious Grealish 

Watkins may have become the first player to score a Premier League hat-trick against Liverpool since Dimitar Berbatov in 2010, but he could not have done it without Grealish. The midfielder had multiple assists in the same top-flight game for the first time and created a total of five chances for his team-mates. 

Awful Adrian 

With Alisson to be assessed "week by week", Klopp will be desperate to have him back as soon as possible. In his 21 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool, Adrian has now committed five errors leading directly to goals. Alisson has the same amount in 92 such games. 

What's next? 

Liverpool will hope to get back on track after the international break with a Merseyside derby against Everton, while Villa face Leicester City next. 

Jack Grealish has signed a new five-year contract with Aston Villa, in a move that appears to put to bed rumours the club captain could leave for Manchester United.

Villa announced the deal on their official website, with Grealish now committed to his boyhood club until 2025.

The 25-year-old midfielder, who made his England debut against Denmark this month, first caught the eye in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Premier League seasons, when still a youngster.

He stayed with the team after their relegation to the Championship, despite interest from top-flight teams, and finally helped Villa out of the second tier after three years of trying.

Last season he scored eight goals and had six assists in the Premier League, playing a crucial role as Villa avoided relegation in a dramatic finale to the campaign.

Grealish said of his new deal: "I am delighted to make this commitment to Villa. It is my club, my home and I am very happy here.

"The owners have made it very clear to me how ambitious they are and how they want to build Aston Villa.  There are exciting times ahead and I am very glad to be part of it."

Villa have strengthened ahead of the new campaign by bringing in forward Ollie Watkins from Brentford and right-back Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest.

Grealish has been linked with a host of teams since emerging as a gifted playmaker and talk of a move to Old Trafford had persisted.

However, United have strengthened in midfield already in the transfer window with the signing of Donny van de Beek from Ajax, which appeared to diminish the prospect of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coming in for Grealish in the short term.

Retaining Grealish provides Villa head coach Dean Smith with reassurance, being safe in the knowledge his star man has no intention of moving on.

Villa chief executive Christian Purslow welcomed Grealish's decision, saying: "We are determined to build a top team around him and are delighted that he is extending his contract and committing himself to the club he loves."

Jack Grealish has signed a new five-year contract with Aston Villa, in a move that appears to put to bed rumours the club captain could leave for Manchester United.

Jack Grealish has earned a first senior England call-up for the Nations League clashes with Iceland and Denmark, while Marcus Rashford and Harry Winks have withdrawn from the squad.

Grealish was initially overlooked for the Group A2 encounters with Iceland in Reykjavik on Saturday and Denmark in Copenhagen three days later.

The Aston Villa captain has now been drafted into the squad by Gareth Southgate, who came in for criticism for omitting the midfielder last week.

Grealish represented England at under-21 level and played in Southgate's 2016 Toulon Tournament-winning squad.

Manchester United forward Rashford misses out with an ankle injury, while Tottenham midfielder Winks is also unavailable due to injury so Southgate is down to a squad of 24.

Rashford tweeted on Monday: "Never want to let this team down but these fixtures just came a little too soon for me.

"I tried my best but I have to focus on starting the season at my strongest for club and country. Good luck boys, I'll be cheering you on from home."

Southgate also called-up uncapped Wolves defender Conor Coady and versatile Arsenal's versatile 23-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles at the weekend.
 

 

Lionel Messi looks set to leave Barcelona and a select few clubs are preparing to make a move.

Manchester City? Paris Saint-Germain? Inter?

Keep an eye on this saga…

 

TOP STORY – PSG TALKING TO MESSI

Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks with wantaway Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Ole.

Messi has handed in a transfer request at Barca, and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has already been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United, Inter, Juventus and PSG.

The frontpage of Thursday's Mundo Deportivo claims City are circling to bring Messi to the Premier League with the 33-year-old believed to be keen on reuniting with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola. Meanwhile, Marca claims City have offered a three-year deal.

However, Ligue 1 champions PSG are also eyeing Messi as they look to add him to a squad that already boasts former team-mate Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano reports Inter have re-opened talks with Barca for midfielder Arturo Vidal. Antonio Conte, who will remain Inter head coach in 2020-21, wants to bring the Chilean to San Siro.

- It comes as Gazzetta dello Sport reports Inter have struck a deal to sign Brescia star Sandro Tonali. Milan have also been eyeing the Italy midfielder.

- Serie A champions Juventus are set to sign Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie, says Sky Sport Italia. The United States international is poised to arrive on loan with the option to buy. Juve have also been linked with Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli.

Manchester United are still chasing Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, according to the Daily Mail. Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho has been United's top priority, though the Red Devils remain in contact with Villa over a potential transfer.

- Sport Bild says Liverpool will make an approach for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara in the coming days.

Milan are poised to sign Real Madrid's Brahim Diaz on loan, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Brahim has struggled for game time since arriving from City in 2019.

- Signing Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a priority for PSG, claims Le10 Sport. The Serbia international has previously been linked with Madrid, United, Juve, Inter and Chelsea.

The transfer saga that is Jadon Sancho-Manchester United continues to roll on.

Sancho has long been tipped to join United, though Borussia Dortmund are adamant the England star will not return to his homeland this off-season.

United, however, are reportedly not giving up.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED HELD UP BY PERSONAL TERMS

Manchester United remain keen on signing Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho but personal terms and an agent fee are holding up their pursuit, according to ESPN.

Dortmund have insisted Sancho will not be sold, though United continue to target the former Manchester City youngster in a blockbuster transfer.

United have reportedly been given the green light to speak to Sancho and his representative but there has been an impasse with the player's camp over salary demands.

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- Journalist Fabrizio Romano says Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen are still negotiating a deal for star Kai Havertz. While Chelsea are confident, there remains a difference between the two clubs as Leverkusen hope to conclude a deal by the end of the month.

Jack Grealish to United? The Aston Villa captain continues to be linked with a move to Old Trafford and ESPN reports United goalkeeper Sergio Romero could be included in a deal to sign Grealish. Romero is United's number two behind David de Gea and the Argentina international's future is unclear, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reportedly keen for Dean Henderson to challenge for the number one spot.

- According to Cadena Ser's El Larguero, Luis Suarez is aiming to stay at Barcelona. Linked with a return to former club Ajax, Suarez is reportedly one of a number of players who could be forced out following Ronald Koeman's arrival. However, Suarez, Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto all want to speak to Quique Setien's replacement.

- Amid doubts over Pique's long-term future with Barca, Libero claims newly promoted Premier League side Fulham have made an offer for the Spain international star.

United remain interested in signing Barca teenager Ansu Fati, reports Marca. The 17-year-old reportedly switched agents to Jorge Mendes, having previously been represented by Messi's brother.

- The Telegraph says Chelsea are considering a move for Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva. The 35-year-old will become a free agent following the Champions League final and he has already been linked with former club Milan and fellow Serie A side Fiorentina.

Juventus are negotiating with United for Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa, claims La Gazzetta dello Sport. The report also says the Serie A champions are speaking to City regarding Alex Sandro, while new boss Andrea Pirlo is eyeing Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

- Tuttosport's frontpage on Thursday suggests a merry-go-round of strikers. Inter have reportedly told Real Madrid that Romelu Lukaku is not for sale, Juve are in talks with Wolves to sign Raul Jimenez and Inter are challenging the Bianconeri for Dzeko. Meanwhile, Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik is heading towards Roma.

- The countdown is on for Madrid to sell outcasts Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, according to Marca.

Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has seen off competition from a trio of Manchester United players to be crowned the Premier League's Young Player of the Season.

The 21-year-old scored four goals and set up 13 more in a brilliant 2019-20 campaign that saw Liverpool end their 30-year wait for top-flight success.

Alexander-Arnold also helped the champions keep 12 clean sheets and saw off competition from United's Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford for the award.

Chelsea pair Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount were also nominated for the inaugural prize, as was Aston Villa's Jack Grealish and Sheffield United loanee Dean Henderson.

The award is for players who were aged 23 or under at the start of the 2019-20 season and is voted for by fans. 

Alexander-Arnold is also in contention to win the Premier League Player of the Season accolade, along with team-mates Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane, as well as Kevin De Bruyne, Jamie Vardy, Nick Pope and Danny Ings.

Liverpool dominate the nominations for the Premier League Player of the Season, Young Player of the Season and Manager of the Season awards for 2019-20.

Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year Jordan Henderson, along with team-mates Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mane, are up for the league's Player of the Season prize.

Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne, Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy, Southampton striker Danny Ings and Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope are the other nominees.

Alexander-Arnold is also up for the inaugural Young Player of the Season, as are Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish and Chelsea duo Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount.

There are four Manchester United players on the shortlist: Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Dean Henderson, who is on loan at Sheffield United.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp leads the nominees for the Manager of the Season prize, with Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers and Sheffield United's Chris Wilder also selected.

Frank Lampard, who took Chelsea to a fourth-place finish and lost the FA Cup final to Arsenal, is the other nominee.

Each award will be decided through a combination of fan votes and input from a panel of experts.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk was named the Player of the Season in 2018-19, while Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has won the manager's accolade for the past two campaigns.

Will Manchester United sign Jadon Sancho or not?

That is the question dominating headlines as United reportedly negotiate with Borussia Dortmund.

This transfer saga is one to watch.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED READY TO END SANCHO PURSUIT

Manchester United are threatening to walk away from a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to reports in England.

Sancho has been tipped to swap Dortmund for United, with Bild claiming a lucrative five-year contract has been agreed as the Bundesliga outfit insist on a €120million (£108m) fee.

But Goal, Sky Sports and The Mirror say United are ready to pursue alternatives of Dortmund do not lower their demands.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Guardian reports Leicester City are trying to sign Francisco Trincao from Barcelona. Leicester have proposed a two-season loan deal with an obligation to buy for £45m (€50m). Trincao is preparing to link up with Barca after the LaLiga giants signed the 20-year-old from Braga in January.

- Premier League champions Liverpool are eyeing a move for Norwich City left-back  Jamal Lewis, says The Mirror. Lewis impressed in 2019-20 as Norwich were relegated and Liverpool are looking to wrap up a £10m deal.

- Gianluca Di Marzio claims Tottenham right-back Serge Aurier is open to joining Serie A side Milan.

- According to Tuttomercatoweb, Juventus are lining up possible replacements for under-fire head coach Maurizio Sarri. Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini and Luciano Spalletti have all been linked.

-  Aston Villa are aiming to keep star captain and rumoured United target Jack Grealish by offering a new contract, reports The Sun.

- Linked with United , Everton and Napoli, France Bleu Nord claims Arsenal are leading the race for Lille centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes.

- Is Federico Chiesa set for Old Trafford? La Nazione reports United have made a €55m (£49m) offer for the Fiorentina forward, who has also been linked to Inter, Juve and Chelsea .

- Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake is poised to complete his move to Manchester City. Fabrizio Romano reports there is a total agreement and a medical will take place in the next couple of days.

Manchester United should "go and get" Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish in this transfer window, according to Ryan Giggs.

The transfer window has once again reopened and United will be able to offer potential signings Champions League football next term after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side finished in the Premier League's top four last weekend.

Borussia Dortmund winger Sancho, who finished with 17 league goals and 16 assists in 2019-20, has been strongly linked with a return to his homeland, having enhanced his reputation in the Bundesliga over the past three seasons since leaving Manchester City.

Meanwhile, Grealish was the standout performer for a Villa side that avoided relegation on the final day last Sunday, when he scored his eighth Premier League goal of the season to go along with his six assists for his boyhood club.

Another season of Premier League football for Villa may price Solskjaer's men out of a move for Grealish, while Sancho could command a club-record fee, yet United legend Giggs feels both fit the bill.

"[They are] two good players," Wales manager Giggs told the Webby and O'Neill YouTube channel. 

"I think the thing with Grealish is he's obviously used to the Premier League and doesn't need to adapt to it so that's good.

"For me from the outside, it looks like he's got the mentality to come to this place and not bother him. Certain players can get overawed. Also, the good thing this year is he's got 10 goals [in all competitions] and got into double figures so that would be one question mark I would have had with him: does he score enough goals?

"To get to double figures with no penalties for Villa is impressive.

"Sancho is quick, direct but also an intelligent player.

"What I like about him is when he gets into those areas with the final ball, he doesn't panic. A lot of quick wide players sometimes do but he picks out the right pass.

"He's someone who can counterattack if we're going to play that but also if a team are going to sit back, he can beat players and make things happen.

"They are two signings that may be available and if we're able to get them, I would go and get them."

Jadon Sancho has long been linked with a move to Manchester United.

The former Manchester City youngster is reportedly ready to return to his native England after starring in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund.

With United's Champions League status confirmed, the Red Devils are ready to strike a deal.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED STEPPING UP SANCHO PURSUIT

Manchester United are prioritising the signing of Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho as they cool on Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, according to Sky Sports.

United are determined to bring Sancho to Old Trafford after securing Champions League qualification, though both clubs are yet to come to agreement on a transfer fee – Dortmund are reportedly holding out for €120m (£109m).

England international Sancho has previously been linked to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Chelsea.

It now looks unlikely that United will pursue Villa star Grealish, who is valued in excess of £80m by the Premier League side, with doubts over where he would fit into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

 

ROUND-UP

- Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell will demand he wants to leave the club in order to force a move to Chelsea, reports The Mirror. Chilwell has also been linked to Manchester City and Manchester United.

Everton want to sign Lazio star Ciro Immobile, says 90min. Immobile has scored a Serie A-high 34 goals for Lazio this season.

- According to Diario AS, Lazio are in talks to sign Manchester City great David Silva. The Spanish star is set to become a free agent following the Champions League campaign.

- Calciomercato claims Tottenham are eyeing Inter outcast Ivan Perisic. The Croatia international, who was linked to United during Jose Mourinho's time in Manchester, spent the 2019-20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

Milan are interested in signing Fiorentina centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, reports Gazzetta dello Sport. The 22-year-old has also been linked to the likes of Napoli and United.

- Edinson Cavani has emerged as a possible understudy for Bayern star Robert Lewandowski, says Le10Sport. Cavani is a free agent since leaving Paris Saint-Germain and has been linked to Portuguese giants Benfica.

- According to Cadena Cope, Barcelona have contacted Villarreal to discuss defender Pau Torres, who has a €50m release clause.

- Qatari side Al Gharafa are interested in Monaco midfielder Cesc Fabregas, claims France Football.

Jack Grealish - who has been linked with Manchester United - acknowledged he is "not too sure" if he has played his final home game for Aston Villa.

Villa captain Grealish led his side to a vital 1-0 home victory over Arsenal on Tuesday, moving Dean Smith's side above Watford and out of the Premier League relegation zone. 

Regardless of his current club's top-flight status, though, the midfielder's future appears to be in some doubt. 

United have been among the clubs touted as suitors for Grealish, who could not confirm he would be back in a Villa shirt at the start of next season. 

"I'm not too sure at the moment," he told Sky Sports. "I have one aim and that's to keep this club in the Premier League. 

"This whole club, this whole stadium and fanbase knows where we belong. That's all I'm thinking about at the moment, keeping this club in the Premier League. Hopefully we can do that on Sunday." 

Trezeguet got the decisive Villa goal - his third in three matches - and Grealish still has not provided a goal or assist since the Premier League's restart. 

However, the Villa talisman felt he was back to somewhere near his best against Arsenal, including sending Keinan Davis clear for one big second-half miss. 

"It would mean everything to me [to keep Villa up]," Grealish said. "I think since we've been back, I probably haven't been as effective as I was before. 

"Truthfully, I haven't felt as fit as I did before the break, but that's no excuse. I just need to do what I know I can do. 

"I've probably done it today. I was probably unlucky not to get an assist in the end." 

For most of the year, Lautaro Martinez has been tipped to leave Inter for Barcelona.

Barca are eyeing a long-term replacement for veteran forward Luis Suarez, though, the coronavirus pandemic appears to have impacted their transfer plans.

However, a blockbuster move could still be on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA STILL WANT TO SIGN LAUTARO

Barcelona remain keen on signing Inter star Lautaro Martinez at the end of the season, according to the front page of Tuesday's Mundo Deportivo.

Barca's interest in Martinez is well documented but a transfer has been put on hold as the LaLiga giants re-assess their plans after the Argentina forward's €111million release clause expired at the start of the month.

However, Barca head coach Quique Setien is reportedly considering three options in his pursuit to recruit Martinez.

Ousmane Dembele could be sold to raise funds or a swap deal involving Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti could be proposed to Inter, while a player plus cash offer including Junior Firpo is the third alternative.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror says Chelsea are ready to swap goalkeepers. Unhappy with the world's most expensive keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea are ready to use the Spaniard as a makeweight in a deal to sign Atletico Madrid star Jan Oblak.

Paris Saint-Germain are eyeing in-demand Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai, reports Tuttosport. The Hungary teenager has been heavily linked to Milan and Napoli, as well as Arsenal.

Ajax are hopeful of keeping star goalkeeper Andre Onana for one more season, claims De Telegraaf. Onana has been linked to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Barca.

- Journalist Nicolo Schira reports Napoli are confident of reaching an agreement with Lille forward Victor Osimhen. The Nigerian has been tipped to join the Serie A side, who have prepared a five-year contract worth €3.5m per season amid talk of an €80m transfer.

- While Osimhen could arrive, Napoli are set to lose Arkadiusz Milik. Calciomercato claims Italian champions Juventus are interested, while the likes of Atletico, Tottenham and Roma are also keen. Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette is an alternative for Juve, as well as Atletico.

- According to Calciomercato, Edinson Cavani has turned down a move to David Beckham's Inter Miami in MLS. A free agent since leaving PSG, Cavani is reportedly wanted by Roma.

Everton and PSG both want to sign Napoli midfielder Allan, says Calciomercato. Napoli are looking to raise funds.

Manchester City will accelerate their rebuilding plans after having their Champions League ban overturned, claims the Telegraph. Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly – also linked to United, Liverpool and Real Madrid previously – is reportedly high on the list of targets, which includes Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell, Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish and Atletico star Saul Niguez.

Jack Grealish has not seen sufficient ambition from Aston Villa to tempt him to stay with the club, according to former captain Stiliyan Petrov.

Relegation from the Premier League looks a near certainty for Villa now, after Watford and West Ham claimed potentially decisive wins on Saturday to pull clear of the bottom three.

It will mean Villa's return to the top flight has lasted just one campaign, after Grealish spent three seasons in the Championship helping his boyhood club battle their way back to the elite level.

Grealish is widely expected to leave, having been linked with a host of leading clubs including Manchester United, and the 24-year-old may risk his potential going unfulfilled should he drop into the second tier again.

Although Villa were among the big spenders leading into the 2019-20 season, Petrov suggests the 1982 European Cup winners have still not matched Grealish's needs.

And in turn that leads to the inevitable suspicion he will call time on his Villa career.

Speaking to Stats Perform News, Petrov said: "As a Villa fan I'd love him to stay. Jack likes to compete, he wants to do that at the highest level. He loves the club. He showed that in the Championship, he helped us get promotion, he battled hard in the Premier League.

"If that moment comes [when Grealish leaves], it would be sad to see because he is an exceptional person, not just player. But as a club, have we done enough to keep him?

"I don't think so and it's a big problem going forward as a club, because we may get good players through the youth system, but can we do enough to keep them?

"If he goes, I don't think he can be blamed."

Former Bulgaria star Petrov, who made over 200 appearances for Villa from 2006 until 2012, says it would be a natural progression for Grealish to step up to an established Premier League club.

"Jack has a growth mindset," Petrov said. "He likes to improve, he wants to achieve.

"He likes to be in the spotlight, wants to be counted. He wants to compete at the highest level.

"Of course, he will generate interest from the top clubs because he does perform. If you remember, Pep Guardiola said he's one of the best midfielders in the Premier League.

"That compliment comes from one of the best managers in the world. Those managers don't waste their words saying this about someone who doesn't deserve it.

"That's why Pep came out and said he's one of the best and his performances this season have attracted attention. It's completely normal."

Stiliyan Petrov suggested Graeme Souness' criticism of Jack Grealish might be motivated by "bitterness" as he defended Aston Villa's captain.

Grealish has been linked with both Manchester City and Manchester United after a fine Premier League campaign in which he has scored seven times and created six assists for a Villa side fighting relegation.

However, the 24-year-old's suitability for a leading top-flight side was questioned by ex-Liverpool skipper Souness, who accused him of being a "passenger" when his team do not have the ball.

"Everyone rolls their sleeves up to be the first, second or third one to press. That is something that is not in his game right now," Souness said in his role as a Sky Sports pundit.

"I'm not denying he has talent - but for me there's a big question mark."

The Scot went on to suggest Grealish is the Premier League's most fouled player because he holds onto the ball too long, with the midfielder biting back on Twitter when he retweeted the statistic that showed he has created the second-most chances in the division.

Former Villa skipper Petrov has no doubt that Grealish could cut it with a bigger club.

"Everybody has a view or an opinion about certain players. I have a completely different view of Jack," he told Stats Perform News.

"I believe he has enormous potential to be a great player. At the moment, Jack believes that everything depends on him. He tries to do everything on his own. He tries to create, he tries to assist, he wants to score. So literally he tries to do everything.

"If Jack moves to a bigger team, there will be certain elements of his game that are going to improve. Jack has everything to be a top player. At the moment, with the current situation at Aston Villa, he is the one everyone looks up to. He wants to be everything for Aston Villa, which is great.

"We forget he's only 24. I don't agree. Yeah, he holds the ball longer because he has to, he needs to do it, and he knows that. But if he moves on to play with better players he knows how to play, he knows how to adapt. Good players do that and he's certainly a good player.

"So I wouldn't really agree with what Graeme is saying. I think sometimes it can be a little bit bitterness, could be a challenge from Souness – he may believe that he's a good player and he's challenging him with what he's saying.

"I can see his point of view is very different to what I think. I believe Jack would be a big asset for a big club."

Petrov, who spent 13 years with Villa, then highlighted Pep Guardiola's praise of Grealish, who the Manchester City boss called "one of the best players in the league" earlier this season.

"That compliment comes from one of the best managers in the world," Petrov added.

"Those managers don't waste their words saying these things. That's why Pep comes out and said he's one of the best and said his performances have attracted attention. It's completely normal."

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