Humble Bukayo Saka has elbowed his way to the front of the queue in England's most hotly-contested area

Nowhere is Gareth Southgate's England squad better stocked than for forwards who are not out-and-out strikers. Not so long ago, Bukayo Saka was towards the back of a fairly long queue.

Jack Grealish's £100m price tag showed Pep Guardiola believed the hype, Phil Foden was the latest new Paul Gascoigne, Marcus Rashford the golden boy waiting to explode, Jadon Sancho had a Bundesliga education, Mason Mount was a manager’s favourite and Raheem Sterling the go-to man and leader.

Now Saka is arguably ahead of them all.

For all that he is probably Wembley's darling, as shown by the reception when he came on as an 85th-minute substitute against Ukraine on Sunday, Southgate apparently remains suspicious of Grealish, at least from the kick-off. Only 13 of his 31 caps have been starts.

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Bad luck with his body continues to count against Foden, who caught Covid-19 during the last European Championship and had his appendix removed on Sunday.

For all Rashford's brilliant club form, his decision to jet to New York after pulling out of the latest England squad did not sit well although Southgate's comments about England not missing a player they have seen too little of lately were probably not as caustic as they might have sounded.

Sancho's personal problems have set him back and Mount and Sterling seem to have been caught in Chelsea's malaise.

Meanwhile right-winger Saka goes from strength to strength for Arsenal and England.

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HUMILITY: Bukayo Saka scored perhaps his best England goal against Ukraine at Wembley to underline his ongoing improvementHUMILITY: Bukayo Saka scored perhaps his best England goal against Ukraine at Wembley to underline his ongoing improvement
HUMILITY: Bukayo Saka scored perhaps his best England goal against Ukraine at Wembley to underline his ongoing improvement

He has started nine of England's 13 games this season and come off the bench in three of the other four. He has scored international four goals in 2022-23, doubling his tally. None were better than the one against Ukraine.

For all Rashford's form in Qatar, Sterling's big-game pedigree, Grealish's flair and Mount's adaptability, it was Saka Southgate turned to in the World Cup quarter-final against France.

But it is the personality of a 21-year-old who has only been outscored by Dixie Deane, Jimmy Greaves, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney at his age which is making him a popular figure too, and which Southgate sees as key to his success.

"His hunger and his humility are what's put him on a good path so that can continue to improve but I don't see that changing with how he is and how his family are," he said. "He's got great support around him and that's important for a young player.

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"I'm not going to get drawn into where he sits in world football because then you start to put him in danger of doing all the things that we shouldn't be doing with him.

"He's progressing brilliantly, he's joy to work with."

With 12 goals and 10 assists (second only to Kevin de Bruyne) starting every match of Arsenal's Premier League title push this season, Saka may well be named PFA Player of the Year in May.

But at the same time this quiet, polite player has elbowed some of England's most glamorous players out of the way to become a must-pick for his country.