In focus: Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka are England’s present and future

England made an impressive start to the World Cup on Monday and it was their two youngest players who were the key performers.

Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka were both top scorers in a 6-2 win over Iran.

Bellingham, 19, controlled the game from his midfield position and opened the scoring with a brilliantly placed header, while Saka, 21, managed two beautiful goals from the right flank of the English attack.

Ahead of the Three Lions’ second game in Group B against the United States, we take a look at what to expect from the talented teammates in Qatar and what the future holds for them.

Iran destroyed

Both youngsters came into the tournament in great form for their respective clubs and their performances against Iran suggest they will maintain that level throughout.

During his time at Borussia Dortmund, Bellingham developed into one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

Now in his third season with the Bundesliga side, he has stepped up and added goals to his game, scoring nine in 22 games – including four in the Champions League.

But as good as his header was against Iran, the former Birmingham youngster’s first goal for England was far from the most impressive aspect of his performance.

The accuracy of his passing game, general calm and timing of forward runs all caught the eye.

Saka was one of the key figures behind Arsenal’s rise to the top of the Premier League.

Against Iran, it showed the accuracy and variety of his finish. The No 17 scored England’s second goal with a well-delivered volley and added the fourth goal with a calm finish after a labyrinthine run.

Bukayo Saka was fatal in England's win over Iran
Bukayo Saka was fatal in England’s win over Iran

importance for England

If Saka can maintain his goalscoring form, England have a front three that will be truly feared at this tournament.

Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, skipper Harry Kane has proven his potency on the international stage, while Raheem Sterling scored three goals at Euro 2020 and struck the bull’s eye again on Monday.

Having an attacking trio that can contribute any goals makes England a dangerous proposition.

Saka and Sterling’s move against Iran impressed as they drifted into central positions as Kane fell deeper.

Perhaps more crucially, Bellingham appears poised to finally solve a problem that has plagued a number of England managers.

English football in general has not produced the kind of midfielders who can control a game at international level.

When such personalities have emerged – like Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick – their talents have been squandered, but the hope is that Bellingham can buck the trend.

Jude Bellingham controlled midfield in England's victory over Iran
Jude Bellingham controlled midfield in England’s victory over Iran

formation optimized

England started the World Cup in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mason Mount as a central attacking midfielder in front of a Bellingham and Declan Rice base.

Although the move from a back three to a back four meant England looked dangerous in attack, Gareth Southgate will fear his side have conceded twice.

Switching to a 3-4-3 formation would come as no surprise, especially when England face strong opponents in the knockout stages.

Such a change could mean Bellingham would have less license to go forward and would instead have to focus on that deep-seated playmaker role that has been a problem for England for so long.

Saka’s position on the right seems secure.

Although Mount could feature in the front three if Southgate decides to add an extra centre-back to the mix, it seems impossible for Saka to be jettisoned after his performance in the opening game.

The only scenario where he could be moved from the right side of the attack is if Luke Shaw gets hurt.

With no natural cover for the Manchester United defender, Saka would be a possible solution as a left-back.

Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice could be anchors in midfield in a 3-4-3
Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice could be anchors in midfield in a 3-4-3

The future

With Bellingham and Saka still so young, England fans can look forward to seeing them at many tournaments to come.

Bellingham has the all-round ability to fill a range of midfield roles. He could become a Steven Gerrard-style box-to-box goalscorer, a testing No 10, or the aforementioned English midfield controller.

Much will depend on where he ends up at club level and how he is used in his new homeland, with a summer move from Dortmund likely.

Saka’s future for club and country looks more secure. Arsenal’s development suggests their ambition can match their academy star’s towering talent with a new contract on the horizon.

For England, Saka fended off stiff resistance from a host of attacking wingers.

If he can develop his scoring prowess he will be a short-term fixture alongside Kane and Sterling and even be the man in charge of scoring for years to come.


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