There are obviously huge perks for England manager Gareth Southgate when it comes to so many of his first-choice stars residing in the Manchester City squad.
The Three Lions’ finest have a stack of medals to bolster their case as world-class performers and learn under Pep Guardiola’s watchful eye on a daily basis.
However, such is the competition for places and scrutiny placed upon all City players that it is unlikely all of Southgate’s charges are having a good time all at once.
No sooner has Raheem Sterling emerged from his slump in club form than his England team-mate Jack Grealish is now having his worth to the Premier League champions’ cause questioned.
Such a joyously carefree footballer at his best, Grealish was a picture of anguish as chances came and went during City’s 3-1 win at Watford that put the reigning champions top of the Premier League table for the first time this season.
The British record signing cut a frustrated figure when he was substituted midway through the second half and it would be no surprise if Southgate were to employ his kindly arm-around-the-shoulder manner and offer Grealish some words of support over the coming days and weeks.
Jack Grealish had five attempts on goal against Watford, with three on target.
(Image: (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Manchester City)
But, at the risk of veering into Monty Python territory, apart from the point-blank header he planted straight at the goalkeeper, the chance he fired over and the one from close-range where he touch denied him an easy finish, Grealish was really very good at Vicarage Road.
Making room for Raheem
For the second time in his City career, Guardiola selected Grealish as his most advanced central attacker.
False nine in an unfamiliar role for Jack and, when he played it during the pulsating 2-2 draw against Liverpool a Anfield, it certainly showed.
But the 26-year-old is a football obsessive and his recent spell on the sidelines, watching all the whirring parts of Guardiola’s ensemble for the first time since being a part of it, probably did him no harm at all.
Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring for Manchester City against Watford
From the first whistle, Grealish took up intelligent positions, dropping in to link play and running in behind to stretch Watford as his brief required.
It was his movement to drag Craig Cathcart towards the centre of goal, along with Danny Rose’s absent-mindedness at left-back, that gave Sterling such ample room to head home Phil Foden’s fourth-minute cross and launch a party atmosphere in the away end.
Taking one for the team
Grealish’s part in City’s second goal was also crucial and had Micah Richards in the Sky Sports studio purring.
“Look at Grealish, again. People ask what is between the lines? This is the perfect example,” said the former City defender on Sky Sports.
Grealish drove forward from inside his own half as a City counter-attack kicked into gear, pulling defenders into areas where they were of limited use and did not want to be.
He recycled possession to a rampaging Sterling and the attack unfolded for Bernardo Silva to dispatch a smart finish from a tight angle.
At that point, Grealish was in a crumpled heap on the floor having taken a heavy hit from Rose.
Jack Grealish celebrates with Bernardo Silva at Vicarage Road
(Image: Lynne Cameron/Manchester City)
This was unfortunate, not least because the former Tottenham man rarely got near anyone in a white shirt all evening, never mind close enough to clobber into their ribs.
Any pain Grealish was feeling at half-time should have been eased by the knowledge he had carried out a perfect piece of false-nine link play.
What he does best
The home supporters guffawed when Grealish was left on the turf by Rose and they launched into ironic cheers when he made way for Riyad Mahrez.
That was all well and good, but he’d just played an important hand in their team going 3-0 down.
If Grealish’s moves for City’s first two goals showcased new things he is having to add to his game, his role in the third was typical of the player English football has come to know and love over the past five years or so.
First, he bustled past a challenge and angled his dribble towards the Watford area before slowing the pace down and dragging defenders in.
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He had almost slowed to a walk by the time the four Hornets defenders drawn to Grealish realised he had slipped in their penalty area.
That meant there was space to pop a pass off to Foden and the ball reached Bernardo via Kyle Walker for the majestic Portgual playmaker to bring the house down with his seventh goal in 14 Premier League outings this term.
It added up to a very good day’s work. Now, Jack, if we could just sharpen up on that finishing.
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