Who could find fault with Jack Grealish’s decision-making now? If the obvious thought there is over his and Declan Rice’s choice of England over Ireland, which a 3-0 victory like this more emphatically vindicates, it’s really about the questioning of the playmaker’s tactical discipline or some of the more mundane aspects of the game.
Grealish again illustrated what is good about the game in general, and why he makes it worth watching. Just as against Wales, he sparkled. He brought life.
Grealish showed both England and Ireland what they’ve been missing, as well as why he simply must have a place in the starting XI.
His performance was by far the most impressive factor of England’s easy win, although the gap between the teams was such that Gareth Southgate’s side could probably have managed it without the playmaker on the pitch. Grealish just so elevated it in terms of entertainment.
A point was proven in another way, too. Grealish linked up so well with Mason Mount. No memes necessary after this, as Southgate might have it.
While there’s a temptation to focus on how impressive their interplay was, that was true for England all over the pitch.
They were impressively in synch, with some sumptuous combinations everywhere. In one minute, it was Grealish and Sancho. In another, it was Grealish to James.
The playmaker – against, er, what you might term his boyhood club – was mostly running the show. There were still some moments when he had to be told where to go, mind.
For England’s opening goal, Grealish had been demanding the ball from Harry Winks, only for the midfielder to refuse and then play in the cross from which Maguire thundered his header. After the celebrations, Winks went to Grealish and explained what he’d done.
Maybe this is what Southgate is hinting at when he talks about the Aston Villa playmaker having to internalise England’s way, having to add some of the side’s tactical discipline.
Except, as if to prove a point, Grealish almost immediately showed what he can do the barest space and freedom. The 25-year-old produced a supreme volleyed through ball on the spin, that was one of the moments of the game.
Some of this had to be put into the context of the quaility of opposition.
Ireland – for all their admirable vigour – looked like one of those Premier League clubs that come up and try to play a nice brand of football, but go straight back down because the players aren’t really good enough. This is the challenge for Stephen Kenny, to so ingrain a way of playing that it actually elevates the standard of the players. It’s a big job.
Ireland had actually started by spooking England a bit, with one run that saw Tyrone Mings forced to deny Callum O’Dowda. It was a brief blaze.
England very quickly got their opening goal and it was as if, after that, they realised they were far superior.
They started trying things and taking speculative shots, effectively signalling they knew they could score at will.
Grealish went close, Maguire had another header tipped over, Dominic Calvert-Lewin a shot that flashed wide.
In one flowing move in the second half, Mings – of all players – pulled off a flick on the turn that almost produced the most divine of assists.
The second had come from Sancho ambling his way into the box and curling the ball beyond Darren Randolph. The gap that Jeff Hendrick allowed him was reflective of the gap between the teams.
For the third goal, it was as if Ireland were so disoriented Cyrus Christie was bamboozled into a foul on Bukayo Saka. The penalty was soft, but you could get why it was given.
Calvert-Lewin’s penalty was hard, and impossible for Randolph to get at.
Shortly after that, Grealish was taken off, as if to put Ireland out of their misery.
He’d made a few points, by making England sing.
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