Gareth Southgate has an array of attacking options available to him, and there is much debate about who features in the attacking areas for England. Who plays will depend on whether Southgate plays with a three or four at the back, whether he plays with two holding midfielders and who the England manager prefers to join Harry Kane in attack?
For me, one thing is for sure Jack Grealish must start against Croatia and the Aston Villa man has the ability and mentality to be pivotal in England’s Euro 2020 campaign.
Ideally, Grealish will play off the left as that seems to be where he does his best work, when he cuts in and draws fouls from the opposition. He also can carry the ball into the box and mesmerise defences to create chances for himself and his teammates.
Grealish proved in the two warm-up games, that he can be an effective player for England, but has also shown for Aston Villa last season that he is the type of player that can take control of a game and dominate for his side.
In the Premier League last season, only Kevin De Bruyne averaged more key passes per game than Grealish. The Belgian average 3.2 key passes per game, while Grealish averaged 3.1. The Aston Villa man also achieved 10 assists in the league, the same as Son-Heung Min, which put him fourth in the assists chart. Only Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Harry Kane got more assists.
To add to his excellent passing game, Grealish is also exceptional at dribbling and carrying the ball. He averaged 2.5 dribbles a game in the Premier League last season, which was the fourth highest in the league. To further demonstrate his remarkable dribbling ability, Grealish also carries the ball into dangerous areas, to trouble the opposition defence. Grealish progressively carried the ball 306 times, last season, the joint highest with Adama Traore. Progressive carries measures when a player carries the ball towards the opponent’s goal by at least 5 yards or any carry into the penalty area. Grealish topping this statistic is important, because it not only shows he has the skill to drive towards the opposition goal, but that he has the confidence to be positive and try to take control of the game, which may be important in the latter stages of the Euros.
One thing that Grealish does get criticism for is how often he is fouled or the accusation he goes to ground easily. However, I believe it is more down to Grealish’s capacity to decelerate and then accelerate when surrounded by players that cause fouls to be drawn. He was comfortably the most fouled player per game last season, with 4.2 fouls drawn and this could be important as it could create opportunities for England to score goals from free-kicks.
The ability to dribble effectively, make key passes and draw fouls means Grealish plays a key role in goal-creating actions. Goal-creating actions measure two offensive actions leading to a goal such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls. Grealish had 21 goal-creating actions last season, and his average per game of 0.86 was joint highest in the league with De Bruyne. This further demonstrates how important Grealish can be in the important moments and games for England, by having the composure and ability to be involved in creating goals.
Furthermore, it is clear he can be involved in creating goals, but he is adept at scoring them himself as well. Grealish scored 6 times last season, which meant he outperformed his xG by 1.7, demonstrating he can score as well as create.
Furthermore, taking out all the statistics, in Grealish you just have an aesthetically pleasing player, that is simply a joy to watch. A player that has had comparisons to Paul Gascoigne, and it is easy to see why. A player that can find his way out of a maze of players, and an individual that can make fans rise to their feet in anticipation of something special happening.
Grealish also has the mentality of someone that does not seem to be overawed and can handle the pressure and will play the same way no matter how important a game is, and you want and need this attribute in major tournaments. It is essential to have players that can make things happen from nothing.
There is debate, whether he can play in a team with Mason Mount and Phil Foden and a debate over who will join Harry Kane in England’s attack, but for me whatever the formation or the identity of the rest of the starting 11, one thing is for sure is Grealish must start against Croatia.