Following the withdrawal of Harry Winks and Marcus Rashford from the latest England squad, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish has earned his first senior call up to the three lions. Villa fans have been demanding this for quite some time now but after an excellent campaign in the Premier League, many other fans have been calling for Jack to get the call too. Grealish will no doubt be delighted to finally get the nod but should he be disappointed that it’s taken so long? To answer this question we take a look at some of the other midfielders named in the squad, who he’ll be competing with for a starting spot.
First things first, we’ve not taken Declan Rice or Kalvin Phillips into account here as we would consider them both to be primarily defensive midfielders, with both also capable of filling in at centre back, so it’s not likely that they’d be competing for Grealish’s spot in the starting line up as he’d probably be playing slightly in front of them. The players who we’ll be pitting against Grealish are Mason Mount, Phil Foden and James Ward Prowse.
To begin I thought it would be worth looking at Grealish’s influence on a game and one of the ways to do this is to look at how involved he is in terms of how many touches he has. He averages 62.6 touches per 90 mins which is more than Mount but less than both Ward Prowse and Foden, however, Foden could potentially be considered a bit of an anomaly here in that, as we all know, City play a possession dominating style of football and each player can be expected to be on the ball much more than players in other teams. Being on the ball is all well and good but it’s what you do with it that matters and England have long been criticised for being too passive in possession and passing sideways, so it would definitely be worth inspecting how Grealish uses the ball when he gets it. Although you could argue that it’s dependant on the movement of the others in his team, a decent measure of this would be the number of forward passes Grealish manages per game. He finds himself second to Ward Prowse here, with an average of 11 per game compared to Ward Prowse’s 14.6, however, nicely clear of the other two. It was interesting to see here though that this was some way off of the likes of De Bruyne, Wijnaldum and Pogba, perhaps highlighting a weakness of most England midfielders compared to their foreign counterparts. It’s also worth considering the passing accuracy percentage of the young lions too and in this department Grealish finds himself ranking 3rd behind Mount, with Foden, far superior. Ward Prowse can only boast a passing accuracy percentage of 80%, therefore, this could be part of the reason that he has been left out of the England squad so often too.
Grealish has grabbed many headlines this season for being Villa’s main man and many of these were thoroughly deserved as he dragged the Villans to Premier League safety. Whilst Grealish used to be predominantly an attacking threat, this time around in the Premier League, he’s adapted his game slightly and isn’t afraid to get stuck in and do the dirty work too. This is evidenced by the fact he manages 5.3 ball recoveries per game, that tops Mount and Foden but falls short of Ward Prowse’s thoroughly impressive 6.6. For a bit of context, Wijnaldum and Fabinho average 5.8 and 6.8 respectively, making Ward Prowse’s defensive work even more impressive, whilst further reinforcing that Grealish ranks pretty solidly amongst his peers in this sense.
Whilst important, it could be argued that these guys won’t be in the starting line up purely for their defensive work, so let’s take a look at their attacking output and creativity. Grealish averages 2.1 take ons per game, just short of Foden’s 2.6 but well clear of Mount and Ward Prowse. Although considered a more important strength for a wide player, this would definitely bode well when trying to break down teams employing low defensive blocks as England dominate possession. The next stat is where Grealish really comes into his own – chances created. The Villa talisman creates an average of 2.6 chances per game and this is better than the rest of his competitors with only Foden coming close with 1.9. Could this be another indicator that Grealish could be ready to provide the creativity and flair that England have been crying out for? It’s also important to recognise Grealish’s actual attacking output this year as he recorded a very impressive 7 goals and 6 assists, both stats being higher than his peers. This stat is made all the more impressive when you remember that he played in a side that battled relegation all season.
After a fairly comprehensive, stats based analysis, I would say that Grealish is by no means the odd one out in this England squad and his performance absolutely merits a call up. He definitely holds his own and you could argue that it’s been a long time coming. By the same token, it’s very exciting to see Phil Foden also holding his own here, at such a young age, a great sign for England’s future.
Of course football isn’t all about stats though and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who watched Jack Grealish this season and didn’t think he was worthy of at least a few caps and a go in Southgate’s side. Grealish has added grit and determination to his game and his excellent ball carrying abilities, combined with his attacking output mean that he should find himself at home if he is to make his senior England debut in the near future. Southgate has clearly watched Grealish for a while and although injuries have perhaps forced his hand, you have to imagine Grealish has been in his thoughts for a while now, so a call up had to be coming sooner or later. Personally, I think the timing works really well for the Villa captain as if he’s able to make his mark in the upcoming fixtures then he stands a really good chance of forcing his way onto the plane for Euro 2021 next year. However, he may find it tough should the likes of James Maddison and Dele Alli also rediscover their form next season.
What do you think – does Jack Grealish deserve to be in the England squad?
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