After 27 minutes of play in the Premier League match between Arsenal and Nottingham Forest, England international Bukayo Saka had to give up his place, appearing to be injured in an ankle.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Gareth Southgate was shifting uncomfortably in his seat. His expression more contorted than usual; perhaps an expletive or two uttered under his breath.

England begin their World Cup in 22 days and his players are dropping like flies – Bukayo Saka the latest concern for Southgate.

The Arsenal forward tried running it off but couldn’t; the impact of his tangle with Nottingham Forest defender Renan Lodi too painful.

Those who watch Saka on a regular basis will know the 21-year-old isn’t one to exaggerate.

He is battered regularly by opposition defenders, who often have no answer to the youngster’s brilliance but to resort to violence.

Yet, you won’t see Saka play-acting. You won’t see him brandish an imaginary yellow card. It’s not his style.

So when he slumped onto his backside, you knew something was up.

The concern was tangible when Saka eventually limped off to be substituted in the 27th minute.

The way Arsenal’s players promptly rushed over to console their stricken team-mate as he received treatment on his left leg indicative of the anxiety – as was the distressed look etched across Saka’s face as he gingerly trudged off.

Barring the player himself, Southgate would have been the most anxious of them all.

First Kalvin Phillips, then Kyle Walker, then Reece James and now Saka. That’s not to mention the fitness concerns of first-choice central defender Harry Maguire heading into Qatar.

Losing Saka would be a real blow, Southgate thinks the world of Arsenal’s No 7 – without doubt a potential starter for England in Qatar.

Now all Southgate and Saka can do is pray for the best.

This was always the danger. Having a World Cup scheduled in the middle of a domestic season is pure madness.

The stakes for professional footballers are too high for them to just go through the motions in hope of avoiding injury.

They aren’t built that way. They are competitors – but competing every three days to accommodate a winter World Cup is criminal.

What if Lionel Messi sustains an injury in the next few days and misses the tournament? Or Kylian Mbappe? You’d imagine who thought a winter World Cup was a good idea would change tact pretty quickly.

The players, though, have no choice in the matter. They’ll head into every game over the next two weeks knowing the opportunity of playing in the World Cup could be cruelly ripped away from them because of one bad tackle or a foot in the wrong direction.

Of course, that jeopardy exists during a conventional summer tournament.

But the lack of four-week period between the end of the season and the start of the World Cup, as usual, means those shorter-term injuries are fatal.

Manchester United central defender Raphael Varane was reduced to tears after suffering a hamstring injury in the second half of last weekend’s draw against Chelsea.

The France international won’t play for United before Qatar but remains hopeful of being selected by Didier Deschamps.

You pray Saka is as lucky as Varane. Southgate is praying, too.

Source: Dailymail

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