Kick Off—5pm GMT Saturday 8th October
Last time—June 2000, Malta 1-2 England. International Friendly
Later this afternoon, England will come up against Malta, ranked 176 in the world. It will be their second game of the World Cup 2018 qualifiers. After Sam Allardyce departed after just one game, this is new interim manager Gareth Southgate’s first of his initial four-game reign. The Three Lions are unbeaten in their last 30 qualifiers and Southgate will not want that to end at the hands of the Mediterranean minnows.
England Team News
New boss Southgate has some selection headaches to deal with. Phil Jagielka will miss this game and the Slovenia match with a thigh injury. Gary Cahill missed training on Friday but is expected to be fit. Burnley’s Michael Keane and Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend were brought into the squad earlier in the week for the injured pair Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling. Tottenham striker Harry Kane and Liverpool’s Adam Lallana are also missing due to ankle ligament and a calf muscle injuries.
Should Wayne Rooney Play?
Elsewhere, Southgate must decide whether to play captain Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United star has been out of form of late and has lost his place in the United side. Southgate has mentioned that Rooney will remain captain for the foreseeable future, though. Can the rest of the England side carry an out of form Rooney, even if it is against Malta? Probably, but against a higher ranked side it could be a risk.
Rooney has scored a high percentage of his England goals against teams England should beat comfortably. Malta currently ranked 176 should be a good team for him to increase his Three Lions goal tally, regain some confidence and prove doubters wrong.
Expect Southgate to play it safe with regards to his starting eleven for this game. A win is a must on his first outing as interim boss and he is unlikely to make many unforced changes from the team that beat Slovakia.
Malta Team News
Malta manager Pietro Ghedin must make two enforced changes to his side. Barnet forward Luke Gambin was red carded during the 5-1 defeat to Scotland and was handed a two-game ban. Jonathan Caruana also saw red but he will miss only the game at Wembley. Ghedin will be hoping that the side he puts out can keep the score respectable. He will also have faint hopes that his side can find the net like they did against the Scots last time out.
England have won three of their last six, drawing two and losing one. That one defeat, against Iceland at Euro 2016, was a game many thought the Three Lions should have won. We all know what happened though. England got themselves back on track with a late win in their last game vs Slovakia and another three points here would give extra confidence heading into their next qualifier away to Slovenia. England are currently on a 13-match winning streak in qualifying matches.
Malta have lost four of their last six games, drawing two. Heavy defeats to Scotland and Czech Republic of late will have dented confidence further. Malta, although expecting defeat, will be hoping that they can leave Wembley with their heads held high. Few will be brave enough to back Malta here. Their last victory was a 2-0 friendly win over Lithuania in June 2015.
Now there is a plan B for England
That is according to certain players. One of those, Tottenham defender Kyle Walker, had this to say: “It was (under Hodgson) ‘we are going to play this way’, and if it didn’t work, then we didn’t really know what to do. But I feel for the Malta game we have different dimensions now. We have spoken about it in depth – that if something is not working, we need to go to this plan”.
If Walker is correct and England do have a plan B, even C and D then this will make a big difference. Too often in the recent past, the Three Lions have lacked ideas as the game has progressed. This was certainly evident during Euro 2016.
This is a game England should win and win with ease. Anything other than three points would be seen as a disaster. England are in a relatively easy group compared to others and should qualify with ease. Three points here and again away in Slovenia on Tuesday will give the table a healthy look going forward. Southgate has four games to convince the FA and the fans that he is the man take England forward. To this, his job is simple: win football matches.