Jack Grealish will be able to handle the increased expectations his exciting performances for England have placed upon him, believes Gareth Southgate.
The 25-year-old has played just four times for his country, but his man-of-the-match display in the 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland last week – as well as his strong showing, even in defeat, in Belgium three days later – have done nothing to dampen comparisons between him and one of England’s best-ever creative midfielders, Paul Gascoigne.
Grealish has also performed impressively with Aston Villa this season – recording five goals and six assists in eight games – which has helped the club climb to sixth place in the Premier League.
Southgate is not concerned about how Grealish will cope with the added weight on his shoulders, though, saying: “We’re going to succeed or fail as a team and it’s for everybody to contribute.
“One of the things we tried to ensure, right the way through the last four years, is that it’s collective expectation. We couldn’t put all the pressure on Harry Kane, Raheem (Sterling), other players… we’ve got to make sure that’s the same with Jack.
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“He’s had a super start to his international career. I think he’ll be able to handle the attention because he’s a player that thrives under that pressure. He’s got great courage with the ball, so I don’t think that will faze him.
“But equally, it’s going to be the squad that brings us success as a collective.”
Southgate defends system Belgium loss
England host Iceland in their final Nations League game on Wednesday night – live on Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm – and will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing loss in Belgium on Sunday.
Despite another strong performance from Grealish, much of the reaction to England’s defeat centred on Southgate’s continued use of a three-man defence and whether it helps bring the best out of the team’s attacking players.
Some have suggested Southgate should revert to a four-man defence – such as the one that was used in one of his greatest victories as England manager, when they beat Spain 3-2 in Seville two years ago – but he has defended his tactical decisions.
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He said: “I think we were very exciting to watch versus Ireland. I think we were very exciting to watch against Belgium. Our job is to analyse games during and after and we look at the data.
“That’s [away to Belgium] as good a performance as we’ve had against any of the big nations. The interesting thing is that there’s a perception we didn’t start the game well – in the first half-an-hour, we had more attempts on goal than Belgium.
“Once they were ahead, maybe they sat back a bit, but I think that’s partly because we pressed so well and they couldn’t get out.
“That performance was in contract to Spain, which everybody’s talking about – that was our worst performance statistically.
“There were other things we did brilliantly that night – we played with great endeavour and we counter-attacked very well. But the perception of that game is not reality.
“If you perform to those levels every week, you’ll lose games. If you perform to the levels we did against Belgium, we’ll win games.”
Our England Euros XIs – now pick yours!
With England’s hopes of qualifying from their Nations League group over, attention now turns to next summer’s Euro 2020 tournament and who makes it into Southgate’s best XI.
Our team of writers have picked their strongest England sides for the competition. Does Rashford start? Is it a five-man or four-man defence? And where can Southgate squeeze Grealish in?
See who they’ve chosen and why here, then use our team selector to pick your best England XI.
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