ENGLAND boss Gareth Southgate took a big gamble on Arsenal whizkid Bukayo Saka for the crucial Group D clash with the Czech Republic.
Bukayo Saka completely vindicated Gareth Southgate’s surprise decision to start him against the Czechs, especially in the first halfCredit: Getty
Rested ace Phil Foden beamed as England won their group – but he might face a tough job reasserting himself in the teamCredit: Getty
Jadon Sancho set the Bundesliga alight for Borussia Dortmund but England boss Gareth Southgate only used him as a late sub for Bukayo SakaCredit: Getty
SunSport’s DAN KING assesses his performance.
SAKA kept it simple for the most part and rarely, if ever, failed to find a team-mate with his short-range passing.
His decision-making — whether to go backwards, sideways or forwards — was spot-on, helped by the fact that he is essentially two-footed.
There were times when his team-mates failed to make the most of his clear thinking in transition and he tried to show a little more range to his distribution.
If there was one area to criticise about his performance, it was probably his final pass.
A first-half free-kick from a promising position was poor and a strong run down the right came to nothing because of an underwhelming cross.
But it feels unfair to dwell on this when so much of what he did was good.
THE Arsenal kid’s first run of the night, from his own half, past Tomas Soucek and up towards the final third, led to Raheem Sterling’s goal and Saka never looked back.
Czech left-back Jan Boril started the game more than ten years Saka’s senior and must have felt even older by the end.
Most of England’s best moments of the first half involved him running with the ball and taking players on: who knew that might be a good idea?
Those who had hoped to see Jadon Sancho teasing and terrorising defenders should have been more than satisfied by Saka’s directness and daring, in the opening 45 minutes at least.
He was less dangerous and thrusting in the second period, admittedly, but so were England as a whole.
HE barely had a kick for the first ten minutes but soon after, he showed the potential of the diagonal ball in behind with a good run in the channel.
Saka showed willingness to drop deep at times, and to vary his starting position from the touchline to well inside, or even to pop up on the left.
If you were being picky, you might say he could have been more dynamic in his off-the-ball runs at times, just to keep the Czechs guessing and make space for others.
The 19-year-old was not in the team to defend but when he had to, he showed the nous he had gained playing in those areas for the Gunners.
It was rarely anything goal-saving, but he did make a key interception early in the second half.
JADON who? Phil what? Saka grabbed the opportunity to stake his claim for a place in the starting XI.
It seems Southgate does not feel Sancho’s attacking gifts outweigh concerns over his work-rate.
There are no such fears with Saka, whose all-round attributes arguably make him a better fit for Southgate’s way of playing.
Saka did more to drive the team forward than Phil Foden managed in the first two group games.
The Manchester City man may well be preferred for England’s last-16 match on the basis of his Champions League and big-match experience.
But at the very least, Saka has given Southgate food for thought.
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