Marley Forrester discusses whether Jack Grealish or James Maddison are more deserving of a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
A discussion such as this has to be taken with a pinch of salt. While both certainly are in Southgate’s mind when selecting attacking options for England, they aren’t his only options.
The likes of Dele Alli are also attacking options, but many see Grealish and Maddison as his main contenders for Southgate’s creative role.
A Southgate midfield often consists of three components. A ‘pivot’ – someone to protect the back fours whilst the fullbacks bomb forward. At the World Cup this was often Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier. But in recent years, the emergence of Declan Rice has ousted the latter.
A ‘box-to-box’ player – often an all-action midfielder, often with Lingard playing such a role in the 2018 World Cup. Since the emergence of Rice, Henderson has been utilised in such a role.
Such an evolution of Henderson’ England role has been supplemented by the declining form of Lingard as well. The Warrington-born midfielder has only had nine goal contributions last season and has only four this season.
The final role is the ‘creative role’. The player who is responsible for linking midfield and attack and is Southgate’s main source of link up with Harry Kane. Alli was the obvious choice in the 2018 World Cup, due to their existing relationship at Tottenham.
Alli has excelled in this role since his move from MK Dons. But since the World Cup, like Dier and Lingard, there have been calls for Alli’s replacement in England’s starting XI. Which brings about the question at the top of this piece. Grealish or Maddison?
Going forward – who’s more creative?
In the Premier League this season, both have featured 30 times for Aston Villa and Leicester respectively. On the face of it Grealish has more goal contributions (seven goals and six assists) than Maddison.
But it must be understood that Grealish and Maddison are in very different teams.
Maddison is in a Leicester side which sits in third in the Premier League, While Villa struggle in the relegation zone. More often than not if Grealish doesn’t score or assist Villa will not win. The 24-year-old has become the club’s main man since their relegation to the Championship in 2016.
Maddison has had a different career path. Starting at Coventry, moves to Norwich and then Leicester again have forced the Englishman to prove himself at every level he has ascended to.
Jack Grealish has been fouled 140 times in the Premier League this season, the most since statistical records began 22 years ago
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) June 23, 2020
While their passing stats are fairly indistinguishable, what is interesting is Maddison has far more successful through balls. This is a telling stat, as an ability to provide such a style of pass may help his ability to tee ups the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane.
What’s more, against teams that’ll deploy deep-lying blocks – usually less prestigious footballing nations in qualifying, Maddison’s superior crossing also becomes pivotal.
What about defensively…?
However, Grealish is in a team that cannot afford to carry players. Thus despite being the star player going forward, he is often shouldered with the defensive responsibility that Maddison just isn’t at Leicester.
Leicester City’s scouring team need some real props man. After signing Kante for just £5.6m, they won the league and sold him for a massive profit.
They then went and replaced him with Ndidi for £17m which is cheap as chips these days. The Nigerian has been awesome this season. pic.twitter.com/4d7l6A2mWo
— Marley Forrester (@ForresterMarley) June 7, 2020
While Maddison can’t be blamed for playing alongside the outstanding Wilfred Ndidi, who has been amazing for Leicester defensively. Grealish has more blocks, interceptions and clearances this season.
Also given how important set pieces were to England’s success in Russia, this may influence Southgate’s decision.
The fact that Grealish has won more aerial battles this season could edge him over Maddison.
So, Grealish or Maddison?
At this point in time, Maddison clearly edges Grealish in Southgate’s mind, with the Leicester man being selected for England squads ahead of the Villa captain.
Grealish is yet to make his England debut since switching his international allegiance from Ireland to England.
The fact that Grealish hasn’t been able to prove himself as much more than ‘a good player in a struggling team’ to cynics goes against him. Maddison has proven himself at the top of the English football in the past two seasons with Leicester.
In the long run, Grealish may need to play away from Villa Park to prove himself in such a manner. A move to a club that doesn’t flirt with relegation such as Villa may bring the best out of Grealish.
Where he can silence critics showing, showing them that he is capable of producing in a team performing at higher standards.