Jack Grealish has just been given some advice that could kickstart his Man City career – Joe Bray
Jack Grealish has a similar problem at England to the one he does at Manchester City.
There are too many good options in front of him to be starting regularly, but when he does come off the bench he’s showing signs he deserves more minutes. It’s a limbo that has characterised Grealish’s first year at City, although maybe his 18-minute cameo for England vs Germany on Tuesday can start to unlock a pathway to a starting spot for club and country.
After the game, England boss Gareth Southgate told reporters how Grealish can improve to earn more starting caps for the Three Lions. Inside that advice could be a hint that Grealish can bring back to City and use to unlock his Etihad prospects.
Coming off the bench on the 72-minute mark, Grealish played on the front foot, and helped England earn a draw that had earlier looked beyond them. One cross was agonisingly in front of Harry Kane, while two more won corners – one of which was saved on the line from a Harry Maguire header.
It was the kind of swash-buckling approach fans had seen Grealish adopt for Aston Villa, with a brief to get at his full-back and put a ball in the box. Unlike at City, where Grealish has admitted the priority to keep possession often sees him turn back and play a simple pass, this was the player who was a fan favourite at Euro 2020 rather than the one booed at opposition grounds in the Premier League.
“If we didn’t trust him we wouldn’t put him on the pitch with 20 minutes to go in the belief he can make a difference,” said Southgate after the game, in response to a question about whether Grealish had earned a start.
“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.”
City know Grealish can carry the ball, and they know he’s getting better and better tactically under Pep Guardiola. As well as his attacking output vs Germany, Southgate may be pleased to see Grealish match Mason Mount’s tally for passes completed against Germany, and better Bukayo Saka’s, despite Mount and Saka having started the match.
Guardiola has challenged Grealish to improve his tactical awareness, and there are signs that he’s combining his natural instincts with City’s possession-based demands. His latest cameo could be taken as a sign that the confidence is crowing again, so Southgate’s advice should be used as another challenge to kick on after a difficult year.
He can use his experiences at City to take on Southgate’s tactical challenge, and then use the confidence of playing for his country to return to City in top form for pre-season. Neither Guardiola or Southgate doubt Grealish’s talent, so if both can help develop his tactical awareness, when it finally clicks he could be unstoppable.