Gareth Southgate has announced the first England squad of 2020, and it’s fair to say that it’s got people talking.
The former Middlesborough manager has played it safe amid controversy surrounding some of his star men.
Harry Maguire is in despite his ongoing court case in Greece. Meanwhile Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane have both made it in light of potential covid-19-related issues.
There are also first-time call-ups for Phil Foden, Mason Greenwood and Kalvin Phillips, while Danny Ings and Dean Henderson have returned to the squad.
Bu what about the players who missed out?
One man who certainly should have made the list is Arsenal’s young player of the season Bukayo Saka. Here’s why.
England’s search for a left-back
One of the strangest things about Gareth Southgate’s 24-man squad is that there are no left-backs in it. This is symptomatic of a problem England have struggled with for years.
When Ashley Cole retired from international football in 2014, Luke Shaw was expected to be his successor.
However, injury and a loss of form meant that he failed to nail down the spot as his own. Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand were tried there but neither really asserted himself.
At the 2018 World Cup Gareth Southgate opted to play right-footed Ashley Young there instead.
In recent years Ben Chilwell has been first choice on the left side of England’s defence. The 23-year-old is a decent player, and his performances for Leicester last season look to have earned him a move to Chelsea.
But with his injury the lack of depth England have has really been laid bare. Full backs are so important in the modern game so to seemingly have no alternative ahead of Euro 2021 is very worrying.
When Bukayo Saka broke into the Arsenal team on the wing last season, no one would have reasonably expected him to be the answer to England’s lengthy struggle at left-back.
Injuries to Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac meant that Mikel Arteta was forced to play the 18-year-old out of position though. It’s fair to say that he thrived.
Regardless of the positional change, only Kevin De Bruyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold registered more assists last season than Saka.
His direct running and crossing ability are just what is needed from a modern-day full-back. Despite his young age Saka has shown that he is ready to make the step up onto the highest level.
The reactions of Arsenal fans on social media aren’t always the most rational.
But their level of rejoicing when it was announced that the youngster had extended his contract at the Emirates gives you an idea of just how good he can be.
Time is running out
Having just spent time arguing how mature he is for his young age, it may seem strange to say that time is running out for Gareth Southgate to select Bukayo Saka. But that is most definitely the case.
The 18-year-old is of dual nationality and is being publicly courted by Nigeria – the country of his parents.
He may have played for England up to under-19 level but that doesn’t mean he can’t still switch to the Super Eagles.
Saka is clearly an ambitious youngster. He’s unlikely to settle for youth team football at international level for much longer.
If Gareth Southgate doesn’t pick him soon, then England could end up missing out on one of the biggest talents of this generation.
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