Bukayo Saka

Bukayo Saka had quite the introduction to Euro 2020

The youngster announced himself to a wider audience with a man-of-the-match performance against Czech Republic. There were eyebrows raised when Gareth Southgate opted for the Arsenal youngster over the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho for the final group game, but it proved to be an inspired decision. Nobody was accusing Southgate of having made the wrong call by the time Saka was substituted in the 84th minute because he was nothing short of phenomenal. 

Struggling to Create, Struggling to Score

England have struggled for goals in the competition scoring just twice in three games. They were held to a goalless draw by Scotland, beat Croatia by the lone goal, and secured top spot the same way against the Czechs. The Three Lions have the lowest goals amongst the teams to have qualified for the next rounds, their two goals an all-time record at the Euros. 

Even after securing safe passage into the last 16, their blunt attack is a cause for concern.  England are set to face one of Portugal, France, Hungary, or Germany. 

Betway Nigeria

The French defense is mean and gives away little, Portugal’s is experienced and dogged and the German’s are getting into stride. Minnows Hungary held Portugal at bay for 80 minutes and the 3-0 scoreline flattered. They were also a hard nut to crack for France. 

Both of England’s goals have come from Raheem Sterling. Despite his shabby season with Manchester City, the forward has established himself as one of Southgate’s consistent picks and has repaid his faith by stepping up for England. Harry Kane has been quiet in their three games at the Euros so far, the Tottenham man has struggled to pick up where he left off for Spurs and is still searching for his first Euro 2020 goal involvement. 

The silver lining has been England’s lesser-lauded defense. They are still yet to concede in the tournament managing to keep three consecutive clean sheets despite questionable choices from the manager. 

Having started with a front three of Sterling, Kane, and Phil Foden in the opening two games, Southgate decided to tweak things a little as he likes to do. This time, he finally included Jack Grealish in the starting lineup, a selection that the majority of English fans have been clamoring for. 

Due to his ability to unlock defenses with his creativity and as Thomas Tuchel would describe it, his “very good decision making”, many fans believed he was the key to unleashing England’s attacking prowess. But if players were picked based on club performances then Jandon Sancho wouldn’t have to settle for a 10-minute cameo, right? 

Bukayo Steps Up

On a night where so much attention fell on Grealish’s inclusion from the start, it was the other attacking change who left a more lasting impression. Bukayo Saka lit up a much-improved England performance that, while imperfect, will have eased some doubts around their ability to go deep into this tournament. 

Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish
Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish lit up England’s attack at Wembley. (Getty Images)

The 19-year-old was handed a shock Euro 2020 start at Wembley as Phil Foden was not in the squad due to a yellow card hanging over his head and Southgate did not want to risk him for the next round. Mason Mount is isolating after coming in contact with Chelsea teammate Billy Gilmour who has tested positive to Covid-19. 

Saka took the opportunity with both hands and he was a menace down the right. 

He played a key role in the decisive goal by making a darting run down the right and exchanging passes with Kalvin Phillips to start the attack. While Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish would grab accolades for the goal and assist respectively, Saka’s involvement is vital in the creation of the goal. 

Lesson 101 in why stats are not everything. But here are the stats, and they back up what we see. Saka completed five take-ons equaling the record for the joint-most from an England teenager since records began. It is a record held by Sterling and Michael Owen. Foden would now be looking over his shoulders after watching that Saka masterclass knowing his place in the squad is not secure. 

Mr. Versatile

Saka’s versatility and ability to occupy multiple positions could make him a real X factor for the Three Lions deep into the tournament. He can slot in at left-back, left-wing-back, left-wing, right-wing, and attacking midfield with no shortage of energy and dynamism. 

Saka shows real courage with the ball and maturity too, there is guile to his game, a subtle class in his consistency and performance. He caused the Czech Republic loads of problems and now that team selection has been blown wide open, it would be interesting to see what front three starts the next game. 

But now, Southgate knows he has a secret weapon in Saka. 


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