WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) continues his assault on the international football coupon with Malta’s trip to Wembley. Will the Three Lions win with ease or will the Maltese give England a game?
England v Malta | Saturday 17:00 | ITV 1
Sam Allardyce’s reign lasted just 67 days and one game.
Gareth Southgate takes temporary control of the senior team in the aftermath of Sam’s debacle and, as is the norm, has been under a lot of public scrutiny already.
Southgate has been manager of the U21 squad for three years and is therefore well versed in the England setup which has to be of benefit in the current climate. Two qualifiers against weak opposition shouldn’t be too strenuous to navigate through.
England won 1-0 in Slovakia thanks to a late strike from the cool-headed Adam Lallana. That was certainly the toughest fixture that this group had to offer but there are a few other teams in Group F that could cause England problems.
The Maltese lost 5-1 at home to Scotland in their opening game but it should be said that they were level at 1-1 at the break and went down to 10 men in the 59th minute. Scotland played supremely well, not least Robert Snodgrass, but it was still a disappointing result for the Reds.
Malta have called up just two players who ply their trade abroad but as Birkirkara have shown their domestic clubs are not to be totally dismissed by knocking out West Ham and Hearts from the Europa League in the last two seasons.
The mercurial captain, Michael Mifsud, now has 118 appearances and his 40 international goals, gives him a strike rate that should be respected for such a small football nation. The pint-size striker is in his third spell at Valletta and still scoring goals.
He is not alone in his experience though. The defence is full of 30-year-old players with at least 30 caps and the average age of the squad called up for the games against England and Lithuania is 28.
Expect Malta to field a 5-3-2 formation, possibly 5-4-1, but don’t expect them to offer absolutely nothing going forward or have their backs against the wall as much as the likes of San Marino.
Back in the noughties, Malta were losing heavily on their travels regularly. In that decade they lost 5-0 to Macedonia and Iceland, 6-0 to Sweden and France, 7-0 to Germany and 5-1 to Austria.
However, since then results have improved; in 28 away games since 2010 they’ve only lost three games by more than three goals and only six by more than two goals. This has seen them post respectable results such as the 1-0 and 2-0 defeats to Italy in 2012 and 2015, 2-0 to Croatia in 2014 and 3-0 to Germany in 2010.
Southgate’s shaken a few things up with the additions of Jesse Lingard, Theo Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, plus originally Glen Johnson. His hand has been forced though with the inclusion of Michael Keane for the first time with Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson pulling out through injury.
Wayne Rooney keeps his captaincy which Southgate has come into criticism for. If he starts it would seem a little stagnant now, after not making the starting eleven in Manchester United’s last two games.
This England team could look a little unfamiliar, which is not necessarily a bad thing after the Three Lions’ Euro 2016 exploits. Adam Lallana has been England’s best player for the last dozen or so games but misses out through injury.
With all this in mind, I find it unlikely that they will get pumped by an England side that is all over the shop behind the scenes.
Malta +4 on the Asian Handicap is over evens at 23/20 with Bet365 – if Malta lose by fewer than four goals the bet will win, if they lose by exactly four goals we’ll get our stake back.
England v Malta – Malta +4 Asian Handicap (23/20 Bet365)