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Jack Grealish: Why Manchester City winger should have been in England squad after omission

Jack Grealish should have played a big role for England at Euro 2024 because, for all the excitement over others, he can do things that nobody else in the squad can. In The Debrief, Adam Bate looks at why Gareth Southgate has made a mistake by leaving him out of the final squad

Jack Grealish produced an impressive cameo for England at St James' Park
Image: Jack Grealish has been left out of England's final Euro 2024 squad

Jack Grealish’s cameo against Bosnia and Herzegovina was a welcome reminder of what he can bring to this England team. His substitute appearance was brief but he was still able to fashion perhaps the clearest three openings of the match.

"He creates free men when he has the ball," Pep Guardiola once said. His vision found Trent Alexander-Arnold for the second goal and his clever pass opened up the defence for the third. A square ball to James Maddison might have earned another assist.

The noises were not good for Grealish before his fate was sealed. Guardiola admitted that he has struggled to find his best form this past season, with the player himself acknowledging that he had feared for his place. Gareth Southgate is blessed with wide options in his squad.

But for all the justifiable excitement about the emergence of Eberechi Eze, Anthony Gordon and others, for all the talk of their superior statistical output, overlooking Grealish for the trip to Germany is a mistake. He has qualities that others do not.

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Grealish answers some of the most searched internet questions on him

Some of the statistics do not do him any favours. The last time that he played 90 minutes for Manchester City in the Premier League was in a 4-2 win at Crystal Palace in April. Grealish did not register a goal or an assist but he was involved in all four that City scored.

"It is just a shame that everyone in the world now just loves stats," he said afterwards. Guardiola has argued much the same, although his decision to overlook Grealish recently - an unused substitute in their final three games - added fuel to the fire.

The bigger picture reveals that while Grealish started only 10 Premier League games, he was in the line-up for both legs of City's Champions League quarter-final against eventual winners Real Madrid. Guardiola has often trusted him in the biggest matches.

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When the margins are tightest, there are a number of elements to Grealish's unusual skill-set that were worth considering. He might not be fond of statistics but even in a season in which he was not at his eye-catching best he managed to top one particular metric.

Man City's Jack Grealish won more fouls per 90 minutes than any other player in the Premier League in the 2023/24 season
Image: Grealish wins more fouls per 90 minutes than any other Premier League player

Grealish was still fouled more regularly than any other Premier League player, winning 3.68 decisions per 90 minutes this past season. In total, he has won 451 fouls for his team over the past five campaigns in the competition, far more than any other player.

His willingness and ability to hold onto the ball in tight areas, invites those challenges and either alleviates pressure or creates a dangerous situation. It is certainly not as impressive as scoring a goal or setting one up but it can be the step that precedes both.

The importance of set-pieces in international football is well known to Southgate. At the 2018 World Cup, 75 per cent of England's goals came from dead-ball situations. They were one of 15 teams at that tournament to score at least half of their goals that way.

Another statistic worthy of mention is his passing accuracy in the final third of the pitch - 83.7 per cent. He has perfected a bespoke role as the hold-up winger under Guardiola. It is Grealish not Erling Haaland they feed to help keep the ball high up the pitch.

The assumption might be that his completion rate merely reflects the options available to him at City but data from Second Spectrum suggests there is more to it. Tracking data enables them to calculate the likelihood of an attempted pass being completed.

The results show that Grealish completes far more passes than he should be able to - 6.09 percentage points more. The statistics indicate that he is better at this than any other England forward. He is not crossing the ball into the box, he is picking out a player.

It has become fashionable to focus on what Grealish has lost from his game under Guardiola rather than what he has gained. It is true that those devilish dribbles are not so meandering these days. But there are ways in which he has become a much better player.

There are few in Southgate's squad with more experience of opening up a packed defence. Others, Jarrod Bowen, for example, are accustomed to wide open spaces in which to work. When England are expected to pick their way through instead, Grealish knows how.

That will surely be the case in the early matches of this tournament. If England go deep into the knockout stages, when tired legs and minds may test them against top-class opposition, the emphasis will be on ball retention. Grealish is ideally suited to that too.

A player made for international football?

He has always had the personality for the big stage, now he has the experience for it too. As for his game, he gave everyone a glimpse that this is still intact. Southgate has been sparing in his praise and now he is heading to Germany without him.

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