Brililant Bukayo Saka Justifies Gareth Southgate’s Faith in Him

England beat Switzerland 5-4 on penalties (following a 1-1 draw) in the quarterfinal of Euro 2024 last Saturday, 6 July, to reach the last four. Bukayo Saka equalized for the Three Lions after Breel Embolo gave the Swiss the lead in the second half. Saka also scored from his spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out.

It was yet another unconvincing English performance in the tournament, but it served the purpose nevertheless. Without being as impressive as Spain or Germany has been in the tournament with their flair and attacking threat, England remains one of the four teams that can still win the tournament. Saka has been crucial to this squad and will remain so.

Saka Repaying the Manager’s Trust

Saka, who played as the left-back for a certain period of time against Slovakia in the Round of 16, started as the right wing-back against the Swiss, as England opted for a 3-4-2-1. Gareth Southgate refused to start the 22-year-old Arsenal right-winger, who has been England’s most potent attacking threat in the tournament so far, in his preferred position.

With England looking out for an equalizer with not too much time remaining, Saka cut in through the inside-right channel before letting go a perfect shot that went through a number of players before going into the net off the post.

Even without the goal, Saka was England’s best player on a day when both Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden played in their preferred positions behind Harry Kane. The stars struggled and it wasn’t until Cole Palmer, Eberechi Eze and Luke Shaw came in after England conceded the goal that the English developed a proper sense of purpose and adequate energy.

With Shaw replacing Ezri Konsa as the left-sided centre-back and Eze playing as the left wing-back, Bellingham replaced Kobbie Mainoo as Declan Rice’s partner in England’s double-pivot. It was only then that the English were energetic in their passing, with Palmer being the driving force.

Kieran Trippier Remains a Worry

Southgate’s decision to start with Kieran Trippier was one that came back to haunt him. The Newcastle United full-back did not offer much going forward and if Shaw was fully fit, he should have probably started.

England, playing with a formation devoid of wingers, needed their wing-backs to provide width and hence, Trippier’s ineffectiveness while playing out of his preferred position was something the Three Lions could have done without. Shaw’s overlapping ability on the left would have come in handy for the English.

Hence, one can expect to see Shaw replace Trippier in the starting line-up for the semifinal against the Netherlands next Wednesday. It is something that is necessary for England – an impetus through the left side.

However, it is Saka’s performance that will keep the English manager happy. One can expect to see a great battle between Saka and Nathan Aké, the Netherlands’ left-sided centre-back, on Wednesday and the fate of the match will likely be decided by it.

The English supporters will be happy to see their side scamper through yet another phase, despite looking rather unimpressive throughout the match. However, the Dutch will be the first big team they will come up against in the tournament and the real test might begin there.


Main Image: “three lions. home.” by William Brawley via Flickr

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