Football News

“Gareth Southgate will want him to cheat” – Adam Lallana outlines bold plan for Bukayo Saka in England vs France

By Harry Edwards

Published: 13:26, 9 December 2022

Former England midfielder Adam Lallana believes Gareth Southgate will be happy for Bukayo Saka to ‘cheat’ like Lionel Messi when the Three Lions face France on Saturday.

Saka has started three of England’s four games at the World Cup so far this winter and is being tipped to feature from the off again, already becoming one of Southgate’s most-valued players. He is also England’s joint-top scorer at the World Cup with three goals, level alongside Marcus Rashford.

England vs France news: Should Saka cheat like Messi?

On Saturday, however, many believe Saka will be utilised more for his defensive stability, doubling up with Kyle Walker in order to keep Kylian Mbappe as quiet as possible. Saka, while a forward, has experience as a wing-back for both England and Arsenal and would be a fluid option should Southgate opt to move away from his back four and revert to a back three.

However, Lallana believes Saka should be allowed to focus on attacking rather than defending, comparing his role to that of Lionel Messi who is often seen walking around the pitch when his teams are defending – so that he is ready to pounce on the counter.

“When he does get the ball back, Messi is fresher than anyone else and capable of weaving his magic. He may walk the most, but he is also taking in the most information. He could well be the cleverest player who has ever played the game,” Lallana wrote in The Times.

“Yet when people mention it, the implication tends to be that he is cutting corners with his team, whether that is Argentina or at club level with Paris Saint-Germain.

“You often hear people say, ‘This player cheats out of possession. He doesn’t defend properly’.

“Believe me, at Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp would want Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to ‘cheat’, when it came to the defensive side of their game.

“When it comes to assessing Bukayo Saka’s role against France, there will be times when Gareth Southgate will want him to ‘cheat’.

“There has been so much focus on how to stop Kylian Mbappé, but England do not want Saka doubling up with right back Kyle Walker every time the French attacker gets the ball.

“If he does that, then Saka is going to be too deep and he is not going to be as effective on counter-attacks, which is one of his great strengths.”

The differences in Saka’s role for England compared to Messi’s with Argentina is pretty clear to see. While he has scored more goals per 90 minutes than Messi at the World Cup, the Argentinian comes out on top for shots, shots on target and forward passes per 90 – and there’s no contest.

Messi is also almost never involved in the defensive side of the game, yet to make a clearance, interception or block and with just 0.8 tackles per 90. Compare that to Saka, who has 0.5 bocks, 0.9 interceptions and 0.9 clearances as well as 1.7 tackles per 90.

Southgate won’t want Saka to completely disregard the defensive side of his game, but it could suit England if he didn’t drop back as much.