Why England’s wide men hold the key to beating France after Senegal masterclass



It was Saka and Raheem Sterling who got the call to start the opener against Iran, both going on to reward their manager with goals, substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish also scoring in a 6-2 win.

After sticking for the dull draw with USA, the Three Lions boss twisted against Wales, instead throwing Rashford and Phil Foden into the fray from the off. They too would repay his faith, Rashford firing in a brace either side of Foden in a 3-0 victory that secured top spot.

It was the wide player missing who would catch the eye first against Senegal, though, Sterling absent with what the FA called a “family matter”. Saka would go on to be restored to the starting lineup in place of Rashford. It would prove a fine decision.

England’s intent was clear from the start. With Foden returned to the left where he so impresses at Manchester City and Saka on the opposite side where he too is so at home, they would attempt to attack down each flank, the overlapping and underlapping Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw more than willing assistants to the cause.

That they are subtly different only helps England’s ambitions, Foden so good in the small spaces he is so adept at finding, Saka more direct and keen to beat a man to the byline. The balance, so missing against the USA the last time England were in this stadium, felt right here, the two halves of the team much closer linked and tied together with the supreme Jude Bellingham at its heart.

It was through him that the first goal came, Harry Kane dropping deep after being found by Foden on the flank before releasing for Bellingham to charge into space on the left. The cross from the channel could scarcely have been better, the timing of Jordan Henderson’s run matching it before the Liverpool midfielder slid home.

Foden, Kane and Saka celebrate England’s third goal, which was scored by the Arsenal star

The second would soon come, Bellingham again bursting through before finding Foden once more ghosting in from his wing at the right moment. His pass was perfect, cushioned, Kane taking it in his stride before lashing in.

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The third you suspect will have pleased Southgate the most, though, his two biggest selection calls for this game combining seamlessly to put it away.

That they were both withdrawn with a third of this contest still to go hints at how involved they may go on to be against France in the last eight. Central to England’s chances of upsetting the defending champions there could be the men least central of all.

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