How can England get the best out of Jack Grealish?
As the international scene takes centre-stage once more, attention will fall on Gareth Southgate’s England selection.
A number of questions will surround the Three Lions gaffer as he prepares to fine-tune the team for Euro 2020. Will Jordan Pickford remain in goal? Who will line up at the back? And, increasingly, where will Jack Grealish fit into the XI?
The Aston Villa skipper enjoyed a sterling campaign last term, hauling the Villans to safety with a series of match-winning performances. And this time around, Grealish’s team-mates have upped their own game, helping the Englishman raise his plateau once more.
With four goals and five assists in just seven games this season, Grealish has marshalled Villa to sensational victories over Liverpool and Arsenal, displaying pace, power, leadership and composure, plus a sweet eye for a defence-splitting pass.
More and more supporters are calling for the 25-year-old to be given a real shot in an England shirt.
Southgate has been reluctant to do so thus far, but if he did, how would he best include the Villa captain?
Grealish and England
Southgate has spent much of the campaign so far tinkering with his England line-up, but not with his England formation.
The Three Lions appear content to run with their 3-4-2-1 formation, usually with Harry Kane leading the line.
In recent games, Southgate has used Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount in supporting roles, while one would imagine Raheem Sterling will slide into one of those positions when fully fit. Jadon Sancho is another option.
In the 3-0 win over Wales back in October, however, Grealish thrived and looked right at home on the international stage in Southgate’s 3-4-2-1 line-up.
And since then, England have appeared somewhat flat and lacklustre against Belgium and Denmark.
England to unleash Grealish at last?
Could there be more to come from the Grealish – England partnership? If there is, it may require a change on Southgate’s part.
For Villa, Grealish is deployed on the left of a supporting three, alongside Ross Barkley and Trezeguet, behind Ollie Watkins.
With so much pace and movement around him, Grealish has been able to run into space, driving past opponents while looking for that key pass. Not only that, the four-some are magnificent at the high-press, hustling opponents high up in their own half. The quartet have caused carnage this season, as shown in those sublime wins over Liverpool and Arsenal.
The international compromise it seems, is England and Southgate’s preference for wing-backs. With the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw pummelling along the flanks, it means Southgate requires an extra holding man in midfield, forcing out a creative number 10.
But with Grealish in such superb form, it may prove wise for the England manager try out a new formation in this month’s upcoming games, in order to see if he can unlock Grealish’s club form on the international stage.
It’s not hard to imagine Grealish lining up alongside two of Sterling, Rashford, Sancho or Mount, in a four-pronged attack behind Kane.
And with so much of today’s game moving towards the off-the-ball high-press, could Grealish’s pace and energy be the added attacking edge England have been looking for?