The bold England decision that Gareth Southgate must make against Malta

The Three Lions are preparing for a double header of European Championship qualifiers.
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He made it. Jack Grealish is in the England camp. His liver and soul might still be waiting at the baggage carousel in Terminal Two of Manchester Airport, but the rest of him has linked up with Gareth Southgate’s roving cohort of qualification juggernauts.

On Friday, the calved one and the rest of his compatriots will travel to Malta as they look to prolong an unbeaten start to their European Championships campaign. A few days later, they will host North Macedonia at Wembley. Anything less than six points will be regarded as a minor catastrophe and a major humiliation.

But hey, let’s not harsh the vibe here. The Three Lions should strut through these fixtures like a Brummy himbo through an Ibiza nightclub, and y’know what, it would be nice to see Southgate cut equally as loose. Well, maybe not equally, but at least a little.

There are some fascinating inclusions in the England squad this time around. Alongside the usual suspects and expected names, one that immediately jump off the page is Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze. The playmaker has proven his worth repeatedly in the Premier League, and has been deserving of recognition at international level for quite some time. Southgate has taken the first bold step by welcoming him into the fold, and now he must take another by giving hm some minutes.

And when I say minutes, I don’t mean a token cameo amid the dying embers of a whitewash. If England can’t experiment against Malta when half their squad have just returned from faithfully recreating their own shot for shot remake of The Hangover trilogy, when can they?

Far too often, players are parachuted into this relatively settled international side, and they are given the briefest of windows to prove their worth. Of course, Southgate sees a lot more than we do, in training and in their general behaviour around camp, but there still no better or more accurate barometer of an inductee’s value than an actual game scenario.

When there are genuine stakes, then naturally it makes sense to persist with those who have served England so well in recent years. But when we’re not talking about a case of if the Three Lions will win, but rather by how many, then it only feels right that the likes of Eze are given significant opportunities to show whether or not they can translate their domestic form to a bigger stage. The same could also be said of others who have a comparatively rude amount of international experience, like James Maddison or Callum Wilson.

Southgate is frequently accused of having a propensity for conservatism. Some would argue it is an appreciation for loyalty. However you want to slice it, he isn’t particularly big on change. But throwing in an Eze from the start against a Malta or a North Macedonia - or even giving him 45 minutes in each - could be a low risk, high reward strategy.

If nothing else, however thankful the nation might be for a spot of intrepid rotation, you can guarantee that Jack Grealish and his jackhammer headache will be doubly so.