England’s 1-1 result against Germany last night provided evidence for Gareth Southgate’s harshest doubters and his most ardent backers.
One could easily interpret the Nations League draw in Munich as a flat performance in which the Three Lions were comprehensively outplayed before Harry Kane was given a fortunate penalty.
Alternatively, one could argue that England fought hard in difficult circumstances and the substitutes made a positive impact in the second half to help earn a draw.
None more so than Jack Grealish.
Recently portrayed as the court jester of Man City’s title celebrations, the 26-year-old donned a more serious guise, that of the probing dribbler who tests a full-back’s concentration like few others.
City’s £100million man repeatedly carried the ball into Germany’s box and twice found Kane in dangerous positions.
The skipper was first denied by a close-range save from Manuel Neuer that temporarily paralysed Kane through disbelief.
England’s No9 then fluffed a left-foot sweep from a promising position when the after-season fatigue had dosed the hosts something wicked.
Between these two chances was the debatable penalty incident which again stemmed from Grealish seeking Kane in the middle – the pair gelled impressively in just a 20-minute window.
Etihad season ticket holders will be hoping Grealish’s cameo is a sign of what will come next season.
The former Aston Villa playmaker was criticised for his lack of goal involvements in his first campaign under Pep Guardiola.
He mustered three goals and three assists in the Premier League and a further three goals plus an assist in the other competitions.
Those partial to statistical analysis have been quick to highlight Grealish’s underlying numbers that indicate he was a formidable creative force who was unlucky not to register more assists.
For example, only Kevin De Bruyne, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah averaged more expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes in the top flight this season.
He also ranked highly for chances created per 90 minutes, fouls drawn leading to shots on goal, and progressive carries.
Put simply, there is enough evidence to suggest Grealish is on the cusp of providing the concrete output expected of him.
Some onlookers have suggested that the England international’s free spirit has been tempered by Guardiola’s systemic demands – at City every player is a cog in the machine.
While this does seem to have hampered Grealish in some fixtures, the decorated tactician has constantly stressed the need for natural, confident dribblers when tasked with breaking down low blocks.
It’s true Guardiola wants Grealish to learn the some necessary duties – his pressing still needs a lot of work – but it’s something of a myth that the coach who helped cultivate Lionel Messi’s talent doesn’t value daring dribbles.
Dream Team gaffers will also be wondering whether 2022/23 is the season Grealish’s overdue goal involvements come flooding in.
In fantasy football, you get nothing for expected assists per 90 minutes, it’s all about cold, hard returns.
City’s No10 provided 102 points when all was said and done – he was narrowly outscored by Jack Harrison, Leandro Trossard and John McGinn.
In fact, Grealish finished the season as his club’s eighth-best midfield asset.
It will be interesting to see what starting price he’s assigned once Dream Team 2022/23 launches.