Richards reveals why Saka gets picked for England over Palmer as he hits back at ‘too positive’ criticism

Joe Williams
England duo Bukayo Saka and Cole Palmer
Bukayo Saka and Cole Palmer during a Euro 2024 match.

Micah Richards thinks Bukayo Saka gets picked over Cole Palmer for England because Gareth Southgate likes the Arsenal winger’s “defensive ability”.

Arsenal forward Saka scored the equaliser to cancel out Breel Embolo’s strike as England went on to beat Switzerland on penalties on Saturday and set up a last-four meeting with the Netherlands.

Saka scored his spot-kick to banish the ghosts of his miss in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out defeat to Italy.

The victory came just six days on from the last-16 success over Slovakia, where Jude Bellingham’s stoppage-time overhead kick took the game to extra-time.

There have been calls for Palmer – who had an incredible first season for Chelsea – to come into the team for Saka with England struggling to produce impressive performances.

But Richards has explained why Southgate – who has faced a lot of criticism at the tournament – prefers to select Arsenal’s Saka over Palmer despite the team’s struggles to score goals at Euro 2024.

Richards told The Rest is Football: “I was a little bit worried when he was playing at wing-back. I thought England would go into that sort of negative mindset where they would drop a little bit deeper but they were brave.

“And Saka when he was going inside, when he was going outside, he took his goal so well. We’ve seen it so much for Arsenal this season.

“I think in terms of goalscoring after Kane, I think Saka’s the most important. He does make an impact and it’s not just what he does on the ball, it’s his strength as well and his defensive ability.

“I think that’s why Southgate trusts him so much. We talked about Cole Palmer, and a lot of people on social media and a lot of fans are calling for Palmer to start but when you’ve got Saka and he’s so consistent and he can give you balance.”

England produced an improved performance against Switzerland as they progressed to the semi-finals at Euro 2024 with Gary Lineker calling their performance “terrific” at half-time, while fellow pundit Rio Ferdinand labelled it a “huge improvement”.

Speaking at half-time, Richards said: “I highlighted before the game what Switzerland could do. England have just not allowed them to do the rotations, dropping into positions, playing the right passes.

“They’ve had no shots on target, Switzerland. So England are doing a really good job.”

There was criticism of their positive outlook during the BBC’s coverage of the match against Switzerland and in defence of their comments, Richards said: “We got a little bit of… I wouldn’t say stick, people were saying we were a little too positive for England.”

Lineker: ‘There are always going to be people who will disagree with you’

Lineker added: “Before they were saying we were a little bit too negative. There are always going to be people who will disagree with you.”

Richards responded: “Yeah, but I think it’s nice to explain. Ok terms of the first game, Serbia, we all had huge expectations of what England were going to do, they weren’t great.

“Then we had Denmark who were really organised. Then we had Slovenia and we see in their system, 4-4-2, they defend really deep in a low block, difficult to break down. Then we have Slovakia where of course last-minute brilliance from Bellingham and Kane wins it in extra time.

“When I said England were brilliant I’m comparing them to the previous four games. I’m not saying they were the finished article.

“All the things you mentioned, higher up the pitch, Foden as the No.10, all the things we’ve been crying out for. Maybe if we were being really picky would we have put Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right-wing-back, I think that would’ve been perfect for him but then you lose Saka and he played so well. Obviously the positive is Luke Shaw coming back into the side as well, looked like he had not been away from football for the time he has.

“So I like to clarify what we meant. We were in the emotion of the game at the time. It was just a better performance. In terms of Southgate, could he make his subs earlier? Yes, we agree with that.”

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Lineker continued: “I think the second half was nowhere near as good as the first half.”

Richards replied: “No, it wasn’t. But it was a question to the manager – can we impact the game earlier?

“The problem I saw with this is who do you take off? You don’t really want to take off Foden because he’s playing well, Bellingham can get you a goal at any time. Maybe Kane to stretch them, you don’t want to take off Saka as well.

“So when I said he was brave in making the subs, normally Southgate would make one sub, but he made three right after the [Switzerland] goal and that was what was more satisfying for me.”

Lineker then added: He [Southgate] tends to be more reactive than proactive.

“We were all in the studio saying, ‘he needs to make changes, they’ve gone a bit flat, they’ve lost their energy’.”