Bukayo Saka steps up – Why he is so important to England and undroppable for Gareth Southgate

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Tops England attacking stats 

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Much of the focus after England clutched victory from the jaws of defeat against Slovakia in the Euro 2024 round of 16 was for there to be mass changes to the team and set-up, and understandably so. The performance was poor, and the Three Lions were minutes away from being embarrassed in Gelsenkirchen. A lot of that furore for something different, from fans and the media alike, involved either moving Bukayo Saka to left-wing-back or dropping him from the XI completely. Following his superb breakthrough season with Chelsea, many people wanted Cole Palmer in the starting line-up ahead of Saka. But the Arsenal man silenced his critics in Düsseldorf on Saturday.

Gareth Southgate chose to stick with Saka on the right, and it paid off. The 23 year old was terrific against Switzerland and kept England in the competition with a sensational strike from range to equalise and send the game to extra-time and then subsequently penalties. Then, three years on from missing a penalty in the Euros final on home soil, and being subjected to disgusting abhorrent racist abuse because of it, Saka stepped up and scored his spot-kick as England won the shoot-out. He was man-of-the-match, but even if we look beyond that goal, Saka has actually probably been the Three Lions’ most dangerous attacker throughout the tournament to date, and will be key in their semi-final against the Netherlands on Wednesday night.

How Saka has been England’s most dangerous player at Euro 2024

“You can fail once but you have a choice whether you put yourself in that position again or not. I’m a guy who is going to put myself in that position. I believed in myself.” said a jubilant Saka after his penalty had helped England to the semi-finals. And it’s perhaps that will and ability to not let any failure phase him that separates Saka from other top wingers. It seems it took his 25 yard strike for people to actually notice his attacking contribution to this England team, but the stats tell us no other player has looked more dangerous.

As Saka beat his man and fired a dangerous ball across goal early in the first half against Switzerland, people couldn’t quite believe captain Harry Kane wasn’t on the end of it. As he manoevered and set up the excellent Kobbie Mainoo later in that half, only a superb Granit Xhaka block denied Saka an assist. At Euro 2024 so far, according to Wyscout, Saka has completed the most crosses of any England player with 21. The next Three Lions player on that list is Jude Bellingham with 12, and Saka ranks third in the entire tournament on that metric.

When it comes to dribbles completed at Euro 2024, Saka once again tops the list from an England perspective. His 33 dribbles has him significantly ahead of second placed Bellingham with 24. When we look at the % success rate from those dribbles it’s the same old story – Saka first place for England with a 69.7% success rate. Only two other players left at the tournament have higher – Netherlands’ Donyell Malen (77.8%) and France’s Ousmane Dembélé (75%). Both have played significantly fewer minutes than Saka.

The Arsenal winger has also taken more touches in the opponent’s penalty area than any other England player with 20. Before the quarter-final it seemed to have become fashionable to question why Saka was starting or not being substituted off across pubs and households across the country, but without much justification. It took a ‘worldie’ goal for people to appreciate what Saka does for this England team. It’s unlikely there will be many calling for Saka to be dropped this time around for the semi-finals. The Three Lions’ right-winger will be hoping to make a similar impact against the Netherlands this Wednesday and set up a Euro 2024 final against Spain. 

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