Gareth Southgate is coming under scrutiny for his failure to select Jack Grealish.
The England boss is aware of growing pressure to integrate the Villa star into his side and this has been a frequent talking point for the last year. Southgate’s consistent praise of Mason Mount has been a stark contrast to the backhanded criticisms he’s afforded Grealish.
As clamour for Grealish grows, Southgate has a decision to make. Here, we can take a look at possible solutions and whether the decision is as simple as Grealish or Mount, or whether both can fit into the same team.
Best positions and attributes
For all of the furore regarding these two players, they rarely play in the same position for their club sides. Grealish tends to be utilised on the left of a front-three, while Mount has admitted he prefers a number-eight role. This is often reflected statistically.
As well as proving more productive, Grealish makes more dribbles (2.9-1), key passes (2.7-1.6) and shots per game (3.1-2.3) than Mount, which suggests that he receives the ball higher up the pitch and has more quality in the final third.
Where Mount excels, however, is in his off-the-ball game. The Chelsea man averages 2.1 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per match, compared with Grealish’s 1.4 tackles and 0.6 interceptions. Additionally, Mount has 727 pressing actions compared with Grealish’s 574, highlighting his intensity of pressure. Mount has also made 20 tackles to Grealish’s 7.
When taking into consideration their best attributes and positions, it creates questions around the “one or the other” debate.
Gareth Southgate has pondered the use of a 4-3-3 formation as well as as 3-4-3 and here is where the debate thickens. It can often be a lazy debate. Fundamentally, Grealish and Mount do their best work in different positions.
As a forward player, in the front-three, there is no doubt that Grealish will provide more quality. Aston Villa’s number 10 has the capability of dictating proceedings in the final third as a playmaker. Mount is far less capable of this, lacking the skillset to do so. In Southgate’s 3-4-3 formation, which he seems to prefer as it stands, Grealish would certainly be the better choice on the left of a front-three, alongside Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. Mount is largely unsuited to this role, a defensive choice in a defensive system. Therefore, to play in a 3-4-3, Grealish is without question the better option.
However, in a 4-3-3, there can be a role for Mount and Grealish. Mount is arguably the first-choice in the most attack-minded midfield slot, where he is competing with the likes of Phil Foden, James Maddison and Ross Barkley. These players are much more accustomed to operating centrally, rather than further forward or from the flanks. With Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson likely to play, Mount provides a balancing act. His attacking instincts can be offset with the industry of Rice and Henderson, all while maintaining a strong shape due to Mount’s natural midfield preference. If Southgate wants a third midfielder, he should opt for Mount.
Rather than operating in midfield, Grealish should be looking to win the wide-left spot. Southgate should look to select Grealish as a forward, competing with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to play alongside Kane and Sterling. The Villa captain’s virtuoso performances come with freedom afforded to him at Villa. Profiting from the framework of John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, Grealish is able to lead his side’s attack. This could be replicated for England with Mount, Rice and Henderson providing structure behind Grealish’s individualism.
What should Southgate do?
Southgate’s 3-4-3 has often looked laboured and sluggish, particularly against weaker opposition. With a lack of quality ball progression in central midfield, the 3-4-3 is disjointed. It regularly fails to exploit England’s blistering pace in attack.
Therefore, a 4-3-3 formation is his best choice and this allows Southgate to select both Grealish and Mount in his team. Between them, they can add creativity, energy and ball retention to a team which has often lack any of these characteristics. With Mount in a midfield-three alongside Rice and Henderson, with Grealish on the left of a front-three with Kane and Sterling, Southgate can utilise the strengths of two superb talents.
Grealish should be at the forefront of Southgate’s mind following a stunning start to the season. He has earned his place, such is his quality. However, this should not come at the expense of Mount. Mount’s qualities are valuable to any manager and one that Southgate is right to want in his team.
With a system change and a greater acceptance of both players’ strengths and weaknesses, an England team with Jack Grealish and Mason Mount could help Southgate find the balance he is striving for ahead of Euro 2020.