Jack Grealish has started only three of the previous 11 competitive England games and is increasingly becoming an impact substitute under Gareth Southgate – but does the Manchester City forward deserve a starting berth?
The Three Lions struggled for rhythm in the final third in their 1-1 draw with Germany in the Nations League on Tuesday until the introduction of Grealish down the left flank with 20 minutes to go helped force a late equalizer.
Speaking after the game, Southgate challenged Grealish to improve his tactical know-how and all-round game if he is to become a regular starter at international level.
However, as was the case at the Euros, the calls for Grealish to start are ringing louder again – but are they justified?
So is Grealish a starter or an impact sub? “He can do both,” said Southgate. “If we did not trust him we would not put him on the pitch with 20 minutes to go in the belief he can make a difference.
“At the start of the game the challenge for the wide players was to attack, defend and to try and score goals – high tactical level and you’ve got to be spot on – and that’s an area Jack can get better at.
“What he did do was carry the ball as the game opened up with a little bit more space and opportunity. The impact both he and Jarrod Bowen had was really important in those attacking areas.
“There is a good challenge there among those players but we’ve got to keep pushing them.”
What do the stats say?
Grealish clocked 18 minutes of normal time against Germany and registered nine passes in the final third, created a chance on goal and produced the pass that led to the equalizing penalty. He had 17 touches – and six of those were in the opposition box.
Those numbers become strikingly impressive when compared to team-mates clocking more or all of the 90 minutes. Kane conjured only one more touch in the opposition box throughout the entire game and were at least twice that of any other team-mate.
Additionally, Grealish exceeded Bukayo Saka and matched Mason Mount and Jude Bellingham for passes in the final third, despite his team-mates having five times longer on the pitch – albeit the latter was stationed in a deeper role.
Of course, Grealish entered the fray when England were pushing for an equalizer with attacking momentum, as Germany looked to hold their one-goal lead – but the hosts also appeared to retreat upon the introduction of Grealish.
So does Grealish affect the game more as a starter or from the bench?
Grealish as sub and starter
The 26-year-old last started a competitive game for England in the 1-1 draw with Hungary in the World Cup European Qualifying in October last year and was hooked off on the hour mark.
In that game, the graphic below shows how he primarily operated down his favored left flank, but was also, seemingly, under instruction to switch channels as England sought to break down a robust Hungary side.
Against a deep block, Grealish has less of an impact – as Southgate alluded to in his post-match comments following the Germany game on Tuesday – but Grealish does have the close control to commit defenders and win set-pieces.
Indeed, Southgate used Grealish as an impact substitute in the 71st minute against the Germans in the 2-0 win at Euro 2020 last year.
The graphic below shows how the then-Aston Villa captain had an almost identical impact – with England regaining control of the game after his introduction and breaking the deadlock shortly afterwards to record a memorable win.
The graphic below shows how, in this case, Germany were certainly more advanced in the second half with merely four outfield players averaging in their own half, compared with seven in the first interval – as Joachim Low’s side sought an opener, arguably creating more space for Grealish to carve openings and run into.
In terms of the Premier League, Grealish has only clocked 42 minutes as a substitute for Manchester City last season – so the statistics are somewhat unreliable – but his chances created, touches and carry distance have all doubled as an average when appearing from the bench.
For England, those comparisons become more reliable, having registered 834 minutes as a starter and 266 minutes as a substitute in all competitions and he produces a less dramatic, but definitive upturn in returns when entering the fray later in games.
Southgate has challenged Grealish to improve his tactical nous if he wants to secure a regular starting berth and looks set to continue using the fan favorite intermittently, but few would doubt Grealish can rise to the challenge under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola next term.