In Focus: Palace gem Gallagher showing his worth for England
England’s win over Switzerland will not live long in the memory — but Conor Gallagher’s first international start just might.
The Three Lions triumphed 2-1 in Saturday's friendly encounter at Wembley and Gallagher shone, something Crystal Palace fans have become accustomed to seeing from the Chelsea loanee.
The 22-year-old could well be in line for another place in Gareth Southgate’s first XI as the Euro 2020 finalists take on Ivory Coast tonight.
We profile one of England’s most promising young midfielders and assess whether he might stake a claim for more substantial involvement.
Impossible to ignore
This is the second successive England squad Gallagher has been part of and his fine form for Palace has made it impossible for Southgate to overlook him.
He has helped the Eagles soar to within touching distance of what would be just their second top-half Premier League finish, as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-finals — although he will not be able to face parent club Chelsea.
With eight goals and five assists in all competitions, Gallagher is Palace’s leading contributor, outdoing long-time talisman and Ivory Coast forward Wilfried Zaha.
Loan spells do not come much more impactful than his and international recognition is richly deserved.
Running the show
The Three Lions were not at their best against Switzerland but there was nothing lacking about Gallagher’s performance in the middle of the park.
Lining up alongside Jordan Henderson, he was very much the junior member of the midfield unit — but he ran the show.
Full of energy, the Chelsea academy graduate caused the Swiss problems with some dangerous runs beyond the front three and had a lovely curled effort blocked in the first half before setting up Luke Shaw for England’s equaliser.
He was withdrawn around the hour mark but this felt like the first of many England starts for one of the country’s brightest young stars.
Sensing an opening?
Could Gallagher take advantage of a number of absences and make this spot his own on a more permanent basis?
It will be a tall order to dislodge England’s 2021 Player of the Year Kalvin Phillips, who missed out on the current squad through injury, but he could give Southgate food for thought.
West Ham star Declan Rice is the only member of England’s central midfield group guaranteed a start.
Even Liverpool skipper Henderson is in and out the side at international level and none of the options available to Southgate can match Gallagher’s box-to-box threat.
Fitting him in
Gallagher’s role against Switzerland raised a few eyebrows.
His frequent forward runs were in keeping with his Palace performances.
But he looked to be operating as one half of Southgate’s customary double pivot — ostensibly a more defensive assignment than he is used to playing in the Premier League.
He won 75% of his defensive duels and 60% of his offensive duels. No England midfielder could match his four touches in the opposition box, which suggests he was not inhibited by a more defensive role.
It remains to be seen whether Gallagher can be converted into more of a No6 — or if he even should be.
World Cup ambition
The ultimate goal is to be part of England’s squad for the Qatar World Cup, whatever the role.
For now, Gallagher is focused on continuing his fine club form.
Speaking after the match against Switzerland, he said: "Of course, it would be amazing [to make the squad for the World Cup], but that’s still a good few months away.
"I just need to focus on my club football and take every game as it comes.
"Hopefully, if I do well enough and I can impress the manager enough then I could have a shot."
This summer, Gallagher may have to choose between spending another season on loan or competing for a regular starting berth at Chelsea.
If that scenario materialises, the decision will be the most important of his career to date — not least as far as his World Cup dream is concerned.