Gareth Southgate gushes over Arsenal youngster

Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring their side s first goal of the game during the International Friendly at The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: Wednesday June 2, 2021. Copyright: Lindsey Parnaby
Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring their side s first goal of the game during the International Friendly at The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: Wednesday June 2, 2021. Copyright: Lindsey Parnaby

Gareth Southgate praised Bukayo Saka for his starring role in England’s friendly win over Austria on Wednesday night.

England v Austria - International Friendly - Riverside Stadium England's Bukayo Saka scores their side's first goal of the game during the International Friendly at The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: Wednesday June 2, 2021. Copyright: Lindsey Parnaby
England v Austria – International Friendly – Riverside Stadium England’s Bukayo Saka scores their side’s first goal of the game during the International Friendly at The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: Wednesday June 2, 2021. Copyright: Lindsey Parnaby

When Gareth Southgate named his England squad earlier in the week, Bukayo Saka was one of the fringe members of the 26. There was some pre-announcement debate over whether he’d make it in, and some post-announcement debate over whether he deserved the call-up.

Personally, I always thought that was harsh, but it was also rather inevitable when a young player from an underperforming Arsenal side gets a call-up ahead of more experienced alternatives.

So it was great to see Saka silencing the doubters with an excellent performance for England on Wednesday. Starting against Austria, Saka was influential from the off, and he ended up scoring the winning goal, his first for the senior national side.

Speaking after the match, Southgate had nothing but good things to say about the Arsenal man.

“Right from the start, he linked the game really well,” Southgate said. “He received well on the line, he received well inside. He’s got lovely ability to receive in that traffic in the middle of the field. He’s like a slippery eel getting away from those challenges.

“Nice run on the outside with the little cutback cross. I think (with) his all-round game, and he works defensively well for the team, really pleased with him and for him to get the goal.”

That’s all really encouraging to hear, and suggests that perhaps Saka could play a bit more of a role in the actual tournament than many expected.

The England fans have certainly taken to him quickly, as he won their poll for Player of the Match.

England have one more friendly against Romania on Sunday, though you wouldn’t expect Saka to play much of a part in that one. After that, the tournament begins for England with a match against Croatia on Sunday, 13th June.