Gareth Southgate has announced his England squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers, and the player whose omission has received the most criticism is Jack Grealish.
England men’s next fixture will be the team’s 1,000th fixture, the squad for which will include two representatives of Aston Villa (Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings).
Neither of whom is the Villans’ captain, however. Grealish has been in superb form of late with Dean Smith’s side gradually finding their feet in the Premier League. His performances have been central to Villa’s improvement, and he is once again looking like the player who was strongly linked with a move to Tottenham in the summer of last year.
So why has Southgate opted against calling up the 24-year-old? Is there something holding Grealish back from becoming an international-level player? Or is he simply a victim of the amount of in-form competition in his position?
On Twitter, Grealish was trending at No. 2 in the UK not long after the squad was announced, which shows just how many people were surprised by his omission. That in mind, we’ve picked four players who are perhaps fortunate to be in the squad ahead of Grealish and looked into why each one of them may have been preferred to the midfielder.
Ross Barkley (Chelsea)
Ross Barkley is yet to score or register an assist in the Premier League this season. In fact, he’s had just one goal involvement in any competition this term. Meanwhile, Grealish has scored two goals and provided three assists in the Premier League alone, adding two more goals to his overall tally in the EFL Cup.
Those who believe England prioritise players from the ‘Big Six’ clubs have now arguably seen their point of view justified. That said, Southgate is likely rewarding Barkley for the impact he made in the last round of qualifiers. The Three Lions looked better when he came off the bench in the defeat to the Czech Republic, and the Chelsea man scored twice in the 6-0 thumping of Bulgaria.
What’s more, Barkley has created 2.65 chances per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season to Grealish’s 2.54. It’s only a slight victory, but one Southgate may have taken into consideration.
Fabian Delph (Everton)
Despite being deemed no longer good enough for a Champions League club in the summer, Fabian Delph continues to be picked by Southgate. There’s a good chance the England manager still sees Delph as an important player because of his leadership skills, which might explain why he remains in the squad.
But one could accuse Southgate of attributing too much importance to Delph when a player like Grealish is more deserving of game time. The likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and even Grealish’s Villa teammate Mings surely provide enough leadership without Delph’s inclusion.
On top of that, Grealish is able to drop deep and operate in the positions Delph usually works in, collecting the ball and making things happen. Indeed, Grealish has made 17.32 successful passes into the final third per 90 league minutes this season, compared to Delph’s 12.1 for Everton.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool)
Like Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is yet to directly contribute to a goal in the Premier League this term. Instead, it’s the Ox’s Champions League form that has earned him a call-up – the Liverpool star has scored three goals in his last two European outings, including a stunning brace away to Genk.
But critics will lament Southgate’s decision to recall a player who has had plenty of chances in an English shirt, instead of giving Grealish an opportunity to show what he can do on the international stage. Others might suggest Grealish’s instrumental role for Villa makes him a better candidate than Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has played over 600 fewer minutes than Grealish in the Premier League this season.
In any case, Oxlade-Chamerlain’s return to the England fold is a happy story for a player who has been heavily burdened by injuries over the last couple of years.
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Callum Wilson (Bournemouth)
It has been a patchy Premier League campaign for Callum Wilson so far. After three games he was goalless, after seven matches he had struck five times, and after 11 appearances he has not increased that tally. But despite his failure to score in Bournemouth’s last four league fixtures, he is in the England squad.
Southgate plays just one centre-forward, and it just so happens to be his near-undroppable captain, Harry Kane. In reserve, there is Tammy Abraham, who has been a revelation in front of goal for Chelsea this term. That being the case, Southgate perhaps could have left Wilson out safe in the knowledge there is already enough firepower up front – especially when you consider the fact he more or less confirmed he sees Grealish as an option on the left wing when announcing his most recent squad.
Doing so would have given a player like Grealish a chance. Then again, the squad is already full of in-form attacking midfielders; we’d have seen similar uproar had Southgate left out the likes of James Maddison or Mason Mount, which might explain why Wilson was given the nod ahead of Grealish.
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