By Andy Jones.
England’s last-16 victory against Germany at Wembley has set up a Euro 2020 quarter-final tie with Ukraine in Rome on Saturday night.
The Three Lions were able to defeat the ‘old enemy’ for the first time in a knockout competition since 1966. Aston Villa captain, Jack Grealish, came off the bench to play a part in both goals to help England progress
Many England fans have been calling for Gareth Southgate to use the playmaker more, and his two assists in the European Championship make him England’s top provider so far.
Despite providing a goal for Raheem Sterling against the Czech Republic, Grealish was only used as a substitute in the win over Germany, but his energy and creativity helped open up the opposition defence and many believe he should now start against Ukraine.
It has left Southgate with a decision to make on whether to start Grealish.
Mason Mount has returned to full training and will surely come back into the England midfield as he is a firm favourite of the England boss.
Mount’s defensive capabilities mean he is a preferred option in the centre of the park over Grealish, who if selected from the start, would likely feature on the left flank.
This would mean England’s No. 7 is in direct competition with Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka.
Southgate selected Foden in the opening two group games, with Saka starting against the Czech Republic. The Arsenal man impressed with his direct running and attack-minded play and kept his place in the win over Germany.
Saka was replaced by Grealish in the second half against Germany, turning the game in England’s favour.
Southgate still seems reluctant to start Grealish in the big games with his defensive contribution a factor.
Saka has played wing-back both for Arsenal and England so far in his early career and Southgate seems to view the teenager as a more solid option when dealing with teams who might provide a danger out wide.
That was the case against Germany as Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens provided a huge threat down the flanks.
Grealish has provided four assists in his 10 appearances for England and is clearly an attacking threat who is contributing well in the attacking third, but supposedly lacks defensive prowess.
The mantra coming out of the England camp throughout these championships has been to play tournament football.
What that exactly is, is up for discussion, but in Southgate’s mind that seems to be being defensively sound first, before using the more creative talent at his disposal in bursts and not to overload his squad with flair players.
Again, this is why Mount is a firm favourite of the England boss and why Grealish seems to be overlooked for a more central midfield role.
Competing with a Premier League winner and Champions League finalist in Foden and the more defence-minded Saka seemed to have put Grealish at the bottom of the list prior to the tournament getting underway.
Now though, Southgate can’t ignore his maverick playmaker, and this was evident when Grealish was selected to come on ahead of Foden against Germany.
Ignoring a man who has provided two assists in his last two games would be a big call from the England manager, but against a Ukraine side that is arguably the weakest team left in the competition — on paper at least — maybe Grealish can be the man to unlock their defence in Rome.
This man is single handedly winning us the Euros pic.twitter.com/oLsltI4AbJ
— Rodge (@MRodge99) June 30, 2021
Grealish has now proved he can provide in a major championship and would feel like he has done enough to be the main man from the start.
Providing for Harry Kane may well have helped those chances too. The England captain has struggled to get going so far and the pair seemed to link up well in the final 20 minutes against Germany and could be another argument for Grealish to start from the off.
England fans will no doubt be keeping cool heads prior to the game in the eternal city and regardless of who Southgate picks, the nation will get behind the team. Winning against Germany will give any England manager a bit more leeway with the fans.
Defeat to Ukraine, on the other hand, would have the vultures circling and questioning every decision made and that historic victory over Germany mean a lot less.
Starting Grealish may be the best way to ensure England’s progress in the tournament continues.