During a difficult season for Arsenal, one of the major positives has been the rise of 18-year-old Bukayo Saka. The Hale End graduate started the season off with impressive performances on the left-wing, notably away at Eintracht Frankfurt and Manchester United, but it has been at left-back where Saka has really caught the eye in the last few months. With England’s dearth of talent at left-back, relative to their options on the right, it is worth considering whether Bukayo Saka should be in the Three Lions’ squad for Euro 2020.
Considering he was only known as a tricky, slight, teenage winger a few months ago, it is difficult to overstate how impressive Saka has been since his move into defence following injuries to Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac. He has held his own in the Premier League against more experienced and physical right-wingers, showing himself to be adept in 1v1 duels. What’s more is that Saka has also rarely been caught out positionally for someone who has such little experience of the position. This ability to learn on the fly bodes well for his progression for England and Arsenal.
Along with his solid defensive play, he has still managed to flourish as an attacking force; the 18-year-old is frequently being used as one of the focal points of Arsenal’s attack. Slick combination play with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang results in Saka often finding himself in threatening positions where he can whip in a quality left-footed cross to the Arsenal striker, as he did for Eddie Nketiah’s equaliser vs Everton. Should he make the England squad, then the likes of Harry Kane and Tammy Abraham will be licking their lips over the prospect of feasting off of his crosses.
As previously mentioned, England’s current crop of left-backs are distinctly average, with there being no one on the level of Kyle Walker, Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Trent Alexander-Arnold. Ben Chilwell is currently manager Gareth Southgate’s first choice and, despite some patchy form this season, seems virtually assured of his place in the Euros squad. Danny Rose has joined Chilwell in the last five England squads, but this season has been a disappointing one for Rose after having been dropped at Tottenham by Jose Mourinho. He is trying to resurrect his career at Newcastle but still looks some way off the player he was a few years ago and he certainly won’t be assured of his place in the Three Lions’ squad.
At the World Cup in Russia two years ago, it was Ashley Young who was the starter at left-wing-back, however, the veteran hasn’t added to his 39 caps since, despite recently establishing himself in the XI of title-challenging Inter Milan.
Teenager Brandon Williams has looked solid, if unspectacular, since taking Young’s place in the Manchester United side. However, like Young, his propensity to cut inside onto his prefered right foot isn’t ideal when trying to build fluid attacks.
Back in 2014, the thought of Luke Shaw being an afterthought for Euro 2020 would have been laughable, but a rough five and a half year stint at Old Trafford has meant he is currently just that. Shaw has featured just twice for England in the last four years but still represents a solid option for Southgate, especially since having proven himself to be competent in a back-three in recent weeks.
|Tackles/90||Key Passes/90||Interceptions/90||Passes Completed/90||Dribbles Completed/90||Dribbled Past/90||England Caps|
*Stats from all competitions in the 2019/20 season (www.whoscored.com/)
Taking someone of Bukayo Saka’s age and inexperience to a major tournament wouldn’t be unprecedented for England with the likes of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney famously capturing the world’s attention as 18-year-olds in 1998 and 2004 respectively. Whilst it would be outlandish to claim Saka is on par with those two, Marcus Rashford, Theo Walcott and Shaw have also gone to major tournaments as teenagers and even though they didn’t make a significant impact it provided the (then) youngsters with a great experience moving forward. Rashford looks on his way to becoming a key-player for England and this would have likely been the case for Walcott and Shaw had injuries not derailed their progress. Walcott’s hat-trick as a 19-year-old in Zagreb against a tricky Croatia side serves as an example of how getting youngsters integrated into the international set-up can benefit their progress on the big stage in the following years.
Whilst he may be deserving of a place in the England squad by the summer, it is important to bear in mind that Saka has still not committed his international allegiance to the country of his birth. Born in East London to Nigerian parents, Saka hasn’t ruled out playing for the Super Eagles and, if they don’t act fast, England could find themselves losing out on a precocious talent in similar circumstances to how they let Wilfried Zaha slip through their grasp and into an Ivory Coast shirt.
It would be understandable if Gareth Southgate elects not to take Saka to the Euros in favour of a safer choice, especially considering the England squad is already relatively young and inexperienced. With that being said, Bukayo Saka could be the perfect wildcard addition to fill a problem position and there’s no reason to think he isn’t capable of making the squad should he continue his good form.
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