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Jack Grealish and John McGinn: Two Quality Players Yet Two Contrasting Experiences on International Duty


John McGinn and Jack Grealish are both excellent midfielders. There’s no getting away from it. Aston Villa have begun the season in excellent form. Grealish, of course, has been key. But John McGinn’s harassing midfield intensity, creativity and all-round lung-busting runs have also been exceptionally effective. Villa fans love them and rightly so. Without McGinn their midfield looked inert for large parts of last season and without Grealish their creative spark, their attack, hell their big chance of winning a game, is snuffed out.

It’s interesting then that the two men have had such wildly different international breaks. One has been a stand-out performer for his country, while the other sat on the bench and watched his nation limp to a disappointing 1-0 loss to Denmark. No points for guessing which one is which.

John McGinn and Jack Grealish: Two Contrasting International Experiences

Jack Grealish: Southgate’s Formation or Personal Taste?

It’s a sign of how good Jack Grealish is that he dominated the headlines without kicking a ball for two games. England’s 2-1 victory against Belgium papered over a lot of cracks. They, by rights, should have lost that game by a mile. Belgium were missing their key players and had plenty of chances to put the game to bed. Instead, Mason Mount scored a lucky deflection that saw England beat the number one ranked team in the world. Southgate’s pragmatism worked. Five at the back, two defensive players, leaving only four players to really cause the Belgium defence any issues. But it worked. Sort of.

Bring on the Denmark game. Fans were expecting a much more attacking approach, perhaps a shift back to the 4-3-3 that so soundly beat Wales in a friendly only the week before and even the sight of Jack Grealish being able to do what he does so well for his club. Attack. Instead, Southgate went again with 3-4-3. This can be an attacking formation, as Wolves have proved in the Premier League, but only when players are willing to run from midfield, the wing-backs push up, and there is movement off the ball.

Grealish was, once again, relegated to a position in the stands. Despite going 1-0 down, losing Harry Maguire to a foolish red card, and chasing the game, England still didn’t bring on their most creative midfielder. Grealish, who became the first player in Premier League history to be directly involved in five goals against Liverpool, watched on. Frustrated, isolated and you have to say, wondering what more he can do to get into this team. Marcus Rashford, who has been lacklustre for Manchester United, took his left-wing position and did nothing with it. The game was crying out for Grealish. It’s not as if he can’t perform at an international level. He won man of the match against Wales. Became the first English  debutant ever, in fact, to be MOTM and then an unused sub for the following two games.

Why Leave Grealish Out?

The reason: “We had to go with speed and athleticism in the wide areas,” according to Southgate. That’s why he chose to bring on Dominic Calvert-Lewin on the left-wing and not Jack Grealish who has spent the last year playing there for Villa, winning back the ball, creating chances, earning free-kicks and dragging his team to victory. He was exactly what England needed.

Jamie Redknapp was left baffled. “I don’t agree with what he has said there about Jack Grealish,’ saying. “If you want to win set pieces you get the most fouled player in world football on the pitch.”

It seems there is nothing more Grealish can do. He is the most creative player for his club, one of the most creative English players in the Premier League and a MOTM winner for England.

John McGinn: A Scottish Hero

The direct contrast to Grealish’s ill fortune is club compatriot John McGinn. Directly involved in Scotland’s dramatic penalty shootout qualifier, sensational against Slovakia, captain and BT Sport’s Man of the Match against the Czech Republic. He couldn’t have asked for a better break. Winning all three games and being the captain of his nation. Ryan Fraser may have bagged the goals, but McGinn’s goal-saving block to deny Alex Kral was just as influential.

Scotland are now eight games unbeaten, their best in 32 years. McGinn, signed by Aston Villa for £2 million, has been instrumental at the heart of their midfield. Played slightly higher than he is at Villa, McGinn bombs up and down the pitch, creating chances and crunching into tackles. Scotland are, remarkably, top of their Nations League group after that victory against the Czech Republic. Did anyone really see this coming?

They are, in fact, the polar opposite of England. Scotland know, like Southgate did in 2018, that they are not blessed with attacked riches. They have to grind out wins. Be defensively sound. Come together as a team, a unit. They did that against again and again this international break, defying the odds and upsetting the Czech Republic who would have gone into that game thinking they could win. Steve Clarke is managing his team to perfection, getting the best out of his star players and spurring on his technically weaker players to shine in his system. If this Scotland team came up against England, you would be hard-pressed to bet on England.

What Next?

Both McGinn and Grealish return to Aston Villa with very different motivations. Villa look to continue their 100% record against Leicester and McGinn will be fired up by his nation’s three successive victories and slot back into that midfield three raring to go and show the Premier League once again that he is Villa’s best bargain. Grealish, on the other hand, returns with a mission. The same one he seems unable to complete. To prove to Gareth Southgate he can beat the best opposition, be athletic, more in-form than any other England player, score goals, assist, defend and whatever else Southgate demands of him. With every press conference there’s another reason, another excuse. It’s up to Grealish to carry on proving them wrong and maybe, just maybe, he might start off the bench.

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