Jack Grealish brings life to England’s monotone football style and makes himself part of Gareth Southgate’s conversation going forwards
- Jack Grealish felt the need to prove himself in England’s clash against Wales
- Grealish drifted from his position on the left of England’s front three to the right
- The midfielder then changed the tempo of the game and gave England some life
- Grealish also helped out young Bakayo Sako – struggling on debut at left wing
- His performance will make him part of England’s conversation going forwards
It was almost as if Jack Grealish had endured enough of England’s monotone football. Grealish is a player who thrives on the colour and life of a football match so England’s tepid, hesitant opening 25 minutes was never going to suit him.
More than most, Grealish was at Wembley to make an impression. It was only in August that he was hearing Gareth Southgate tell us why he wasn’t including the Aston Villa player in his squad.
‘The simple answer is Mason Greenwood,’ said Southgate.
Midfielder Jack Grealish felt the need to prove himself in England’s clash against Wales
‘Jack is competing in my view against Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling.’
So with opportunity having come quicker than expected and on the back of circumstance as well as his own good early season form, this was a night when Grealish couldn’t really afford to hang around. An impression had to be made.
Perhaps that is why he decided to drift from his position on the left of England’s front three across the field and over to the right hand side midway through the first half.
For the previous 20 minutes or so, absolutely nothing had happened – for him or for England. So poor was England’s tempo – so lacking were they in urgency – that the game was being played at a walking pace, which was presumably exactly what Wales had wanted.
Grealish changed all that, though. He changed it with one change of position, one very slight trick to square up his defender and one clipped cross on to the forehead of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Suddenly England were ahead and the feeling of the game changed.
It wasn’t too long ago since Gareth Southgate opted to leave Grealish out of his England side
During the game Grealish drifted from the left of England’s front three over to the right
It was typical of Grealish. There has been some criticism of his final ball in the past. Some say that is why Manchester United never made their move this summer. But so far this season, his use of the ball for Villa has been exceptional. Grealish sees angles and space quite naturally and has the ability to play his passes at exactly the right pace. It’s a gift and from the moment he set up Calvert-Lewin for the goal, it seemed as though a light had come on.
Grealish thrives on being Villa’s go-to man for drive and tempo. Early on here he looked a little suffocated by England’s own lethargy. But good players will eventually go looking for the ball – and the influence that comes with it – and his part in the goal gave him the confidence to do what comes naturally.
Soon after he was helping out young Bakayo Sako – struggling on debut at left wing-back – to block a Wales cross and then came a back heel to feed Kalvin Phillips by the left touchline.
The midfielder changed the tempo of the game and gave England an element of life
Grealish also helped out young Bakayo Sako – who was struggling on his debut at left wing
England’s formation had not helped Grealish early on. It hadn’t helped anybody apart from those who were playing for Wales. Southgate’s back three was too often a back five and as such far too much of their football was played in front of a Wales side that was hardly even asked to turn round and face its own goal.
Southgate had said before the game that he wanted to see Grealish play high up the field. For his club, Grealish will often come deep to find the ball. But most of his best work in the 7-2 rout of Liverpool last Sunday was done in the final third with new team-mates Ross Barkley and Ollie Watkins. For that kind of influence to be felt here, England were going to have to play with a little more dynamism.
In truth, Grealish did fall deeper as the game wore on. It may not have been part of Southgate’s instructions but Grealish is not a player to spend long on the periphery and the truth is that England did look better – certainly more urgent – when he was moving forwards with the ball.
Twice around the hour, he was brought to ground by flailing Welsh legs. That was indicative of the fact he was beginning stretch and worry Ryan Giggs’ team. Wales were also increasingly worried by their own defending. Calvert-Lewin was unmarked for the first goal, Conor Coady for the second and Danny Ings for the third. Each of the scorers had good nights but in terms of future selection Grealish probably had most to gain.
It is hard to see Calvert-Lewin replacing Harry Kane as England’s number nine while Coady and Ings will require a sudden shift in the order of things for them to enjoy a run of starts. Grealish is unlikely to be looking that far ahead. For now, he has at least managed to make himself part of the conversation.
Grealish has made himself part of the conversation for the England squad going forward’s