I always believed in him – Roy Hodgson not surprised by Jack Grealish rise

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Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson says he never doubted the star quality of Jack Grealish as he prepares to shackle the increasingly influential Aston Villa captain.

Hodgson helped persuade Grealish to pledge international allegiance to England during his time as national team manager.

The attacking midfielder, who initially opted to represent the Republic of Ireland, finally made his senior Three Lions debut in September on the back of a string of standout Premier League performances.

Palace travel to Villa Park on Boxing Day and Hodgson is unsurprised that 25-year-old Grealish is the “first name on everyone’s lips”.

“I always believed in him. It’s very different going back five years to a very much younger Jack Grealish and someone just starting his rise to the top,” said Hodgson.

“I have 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 and, if anything, he has kicked on even further this year.

“Now he’s the first name on everyone’s lips when you are preparing for a match against Aston Villa because he’s somebody you know you are going to have to try and stop – or at least limit – the good things he’s going to do during the game.”

Palace travel to the West Midlands seeking a response to last weekend’s 7-0 drubbing at the hands of champions Liverpool.

Hodgson said in the immediate aftermath of the humiliation that his team must learn lessons from it.

However, having had time to reflect, the 73-year-old concedes the “painful” defeat was largely down to the brilliance of Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, rather than the shortcomings of his squad.

“I have had plenty of heavy defeats in the past – not by quite as many goals – but there have been a few fours and fives along the way that I can remember, even recent ones,” he said.

“Some of those have been very concerning because of the way the team played, or the things we weren’t capable of doing or trying to do, things that I and my coaching staff couldn’t accept.

“That actually wasn’t the case against Liverpool, it was really a case of being hit by a fantastic team having a wonderful day and scoring very, very good goals along the way.

“The defeat is painful, we can do nothing other than park it.

“But, to be honest, there weren’t that many lessons there to be learnt because we didn’t lose 7-0 because we were pathetic on the day, we lost 7-0 because they were so good.”

Palace will be boosted by the return from suspension of former Villa striker Christian Benteke on Saturday.

The Belgium international, who has struggled for goals during his time at Selhurst Park, struck for the third time in as many games at West Ham on December 16 before later being dismissed for two bookable offences.

Hodgson has his fingers crossed that 30-year-old Benteke can resume his red-hot form on his old stomping ground.

“I’m hoping he will carry on where he left off at West Ham before his chances of playing for us were curtailed,” Hodgson said of Benteke, who managed 42 Premier League goals for Villa between 2012 and 2015.

“Certainly he will be looking forward to going back to Aston Villa, where he had such success.

“He is in a good vein of form so I am hoping that will help us get back to the results we had before the last one.”

Eagles defender Gary Cahill – another former Villa player – will miss the game due to a hamstring problem.

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