Jack Grealish every inch England's 'game-changer' in accomplished Hungary display

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Jack Grealish of England is put under pressure by Akos Kecskes - Getty Images
Jack Grealish of England is put under pressure by Akos Kecskes - Getty Images

For the first time, England lined up with a £100 million footballer in their team and Jack Grealish more than lived up to his billing as the man to sprinkle the necessary stardust on Gareth Southgate’s side. Southgate acknowledged ahead of the World Cup qualifier in Hungary that the scrutiny and expectation around Grealish will change because of the size of the fee that took him to Manchester City, but there was no reason to worry that it would weigh heavily on his shoulders.

Having grown accustomed to being the nation’s sweetheart, Grealish will realise that non-City fans will inevitably now try to find fault in his game, but even those Aston Villa fans still sore at his departure would have struggled not to have enjoyed their former star’s performance in Budapest.

Grealish was the name the England fans loved to chant during the European Championships, even though he spent most of his time warming up on the touchline, and that is unlikely to change now Southgate looks ready to trust him as a starter.

It was not just his hand in Raheem Sterling’s goal and the way he set up Declan Rice to score that was so impressive, but also his positivity on the ball and his ability to find holes in a packed defence. Grealish will wonder how he did not finish the night with three assists after twice putting the ball on a plate for Harry Kane. England have lacked that bit of magic when they have fallen at the semi-finals and final of the last two major tournaments, but Grealish is the man to keep them on the front foot and he clearly feels at home in Southgate’s team – even as the most expensive member of it.

Asked what it sounds like to be described as England’s first-ever £100 million player, Grealish, who will celebrate his 26th birthday next week, replied: “I think it sounds good. I’m happy with it, I like it.”

Jack Grealish of England celebrates a goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Shutterstock
Jack Grealish of England celebrates a goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Shutterstock

Most players with a huge fee on their shoulders will insist they are not thinking about it and have nothing to justify. Not Grealish, who always wants to stand out from the crowd.

“I still need to justify the fee and to do that I need to be a game-changing player,” said Grealish.

“I like that word I said earlier, a game-changer. It will be hard because you have H (Harry Kane) and Raheem (Sterling), some of the best in the world. I’ll be 27 at the World Cup and I hope you have a much better player than you have sitting here now.”

For a man who still seemed to harbour doubts over Grealish during the Euros, Southgate demonstrated a big show of faith in City’s new-boy by shifting Sterling to the right to accommodate him.

“I think he (Grealish) will be enjoying it (the fee),” said Southgate. “But there is a reality that the scrutiny and expectation will change. There is huge potential for growth. He can score more goals and he hasn’t played a game of European club football yet.”

Sterling was England’s best player in the Euros and was one of the outstanding performers in the tournament from the left where he scored three goals. He did not get a sight of goal from the right in the first half, but Sterling drifted into the penalty area to devastating effect 10 minutes after the break and Grealish was involved in a goal straight out of the City playbook. The pass Grealish produced for the overlapping Mason Mount, the man he was so often bizarrely pitched against last season, was perfect and the Chelsea midfielder cut the ball back for Sterling to finish.

Gareth Southgate congratulates Jack Grealish - Getty Images
Gareth Southgate congratulates Jack Grealish - Getty Images

Not only would Southgate have been purring on the touchline, but so would City manager Pep Guardiola if he had been watching somewhere on television. In what was a first half largely made up of England’s attack against Hungary’s defence, Grealish was one of the most threatening players. It took him only four minutes to draw the first foul and 10 minutes before the break Bendeguz Bolla was booked for stepping on the back of Grealish’s ankle. He exchanged a lovely one-two with Mount before finding Kane just inside the penalty area, but the England captain’s shot went over the bar. Shortly afterwards, Grealish demonstrated his vision with a lovely chipped pass that bounced just out of reach of Luke Shaw in the Hungary penalty area.

Kane scored his goal in the 63rd minute, but will wonder how he did not finish the night with a hat-trick and the matchball after Grealish twice put him through on goal. First, in the 67th minute, Grealish carried the ball forwards before slipping a delightful pass down the left channel to give Kane a clear sight of goal, but the Tottenham Hotspur man saw his effort saved. And Kane was denied again after Grealish had sent him clear down the middle. But the assist he so richly deserved came right at the end, partly thanks to a goalkeeping error that allowed Rice’s shot to squirm in, and Grealish was every bit England’s £100 million man.

How have England changed tactically since the Euros?

By Mike McGrath

Formation

It was 53 days after the European Championship final and it was a different look for England, not just because they were wearing blue and playing without their own fans in the stadium. From the team defeated by Italy on penalties, Gareth Southgate switched his system and played four at the back instead of five.

Southgate’s move was a positive change, taking out a defender in Kieran Trippier and putting faith in Jack Grealish following his £100million move to Manchester City that made him the most expensive player in the Premier League.

During the Euros, some England players spoke with Southgate about letting themselves off the leash more with their attacking. This formation meant they were given the platform to express themselves going forward. Southgate’s thinking was to get his wingers one-v-one against the Hungarian’s back five.

Jack Back

After starting in one game at the Euros, Grealish was given his chance to impress from the kick-off at Puskas Arena. He was stationed on the left side of the three attacking-midfielders supporting Harry Kane and he immediately got on the ball and started drawing fouls, which helped England keep possession.

His dribbling ability meant plenty of the play went through him and the accusation that he slows play down could not be levelled at him - he shifted the ball quickly and made decisive decisions on whether to run or pass.

Grealish looked a likely source of success for England against a tough team to break down. His opponents’ tactics appeared to be stopping him with fouls. He eventually unlocked Hungarians with the assist before the assist when Raheem Sterling broke the deadlock.

Midfield control

Kalvin Phillips was often pushed forward at the Euros, resembling a traditional No8 rather than a “Yorkshire Pirlo” as he has been called by Leeds United supporters. Within the first minute he was back on the edge of his own penalty area to intercept an attack. He looked more Makelele than Pirlo, a destroyer rather than creator.

Kalvin Phillips of England and Laszlo Kleinheisler of Hungary battle for the ball during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Hungary and England at Stadium Puskas Ferenc on September 02, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. - GETTY IMAGES
Kalvin Phillips of England and Laszlo Kleinheisler of Hungary battle for the ball during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Hungary and England at Stadium Puskas Ferenc on September 02, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. - GETTY IMAGES

It allowed England to have an element of control in the midfield area, where they lost in the final to Italy as Jorginho made his presence felt. Harry Maguire also stepped into central midfield to break up play and start attacks. He picked his times well, rather than press every time the Hungarians had possession.

The shift in formation meant one less defender on the pitch and Phillips, helped by Declan Rice, had to be disciplined to keep their back four protected. Sterling and Kane’s goals came from the ball being won in this midfield area seconds before they scored.

Harry Kane’s role

It only took five minutes for Harry Kane to drop deep and launch a diagonal ball across the pitch. It proved effective as it landed at the feet of Raheem Sterling and he teed up Mason Mount for the first chance of the game.

Kane is not going to revert to an otrhodox No 9 anytime soon. He is a No 10 and it is down to Mason Mount to use his intelligence to push forward when he sees gaps. The Chelsea midfielder did this well and was seen in all areas of the pitch.

England’s most dangerous moment of the first half came when Kane was on the ball on the edge of the area and put a delicate cross in, the type of service he would thrive on as a striker. He picked his moments to drop deep but also pushed forward on counter-attacks and added the second from close range.

Long balls

John Stones would berate Jordan Pickford during the Euros when the ball went long at Wembley. It was a valid tactic from England given the Everton goalkeeper’s precision kicking and ability to pick out a player in midfield or beyond.

In their first game since the finals, England kept it short at the back and the ball was fed to their ball-playing centre-backs Maguire and John Stones or out to the full-backs to move the ball down the flanks. England were happy to be patient and their defenders could pick out passes, as Kyle Walker did when he sent through Kane for a one-on-one chance that was saved by Peter Gulacsi.

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