Why Jack Grealish must start for England against Croatia

Why Jack Grealish must start for England against Croatia

England have had to deal with availability issues during their two pre tournament friendlies against Austria and Romania. However, one player has taken advantage of his opportunity and Gareth Southgate needs to find a way to fit him in. That player is Jack Grealish. There were worries that he was still struggling with an injury, but two all-action displays underline his value to the national team.

The issue for Southgate is how to fit him in and how to get the best from him. That will be on the manager’s mind over the next seven days in the build up to the opening match against Croatia. Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling will all be available after missing the pre tournament friendlies, which creates an even bigger selection dilemma for Southgate.

During the two friendlies, Grealish has been used as a number ten in a 4-2-3-1 formation. It is unlikely that this system will be used at the tournament, with Southgate favouring 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 in the qualification matches. The likely unavailability of Harry Maguire means that Southgate is likely to use the latter.

Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady haven’t shown themselves to be reliable in a four-man defence. Therefore, it is likely that a back three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and one of the above start the match against Croatia. This limits the potential starting opportunities for Grealish, as he would only be suitable for one of the wide forward positions.

The competition for places is very high there, with Marcus Rashford, Sterling, Mount, Foden Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho vying for these roles. All of them have good claims to start the tournament, but Grealish will have an advantage based on his form during the two friendlies.

Although Sterling is a long term favourite of Southgate, his poor form means he may start the tournament outside of the first eleven. Saka and Foden is still inexperienced at international level, while Sancho has struggled to show his best form in an England shirt. Mount could be used as a central midfielder next to Declan Rice.

Southgate will want to start the tournament with Rashford, as he will look to run beyond Harry Kane. It is important that there is a quick player willing to make runs in behind, as Kane likes to drop deep to influence the game. Grealish looks to be the right choice for the second role behind Kane.

Grealish has shown a willingness to get on the ball often in an England shirt. He likes to dictate the attacking play. No player averaged more than Grealish’s 3.2 key passes per game in the Premier League. The Villa talisman created 14 big chances, trailing only Bruno Fernandes and Kevin de Bruyne.

Creatively, Grealish has already emerged as one of the best players in the Premier League. He looks ready to play at a higher level and Euro 2020 could be his opportunity to break through.

Southgate relied on set pieces during the run to the World Cup semi final in 2018. Grealish is excellent at winning free kicks, as he showed during the two friendly matches. This could be an important skill to have in the team, as there are tight margins at international level. He also won the penalty for the winner against Romania.

In both friendly matches, England didn’t look at their fluent best. However, Grealish stood out and played a big role in the winning goal of each game. The Aston Villa man has played himself into the team against Croatia. Southgate has no choice but to start the 25-year-old.