Published: 22:55, 17 Nov 2023Updated: 22:56, 17 Nov 2023
England laboured to a 2-0 win over European minnows Malta to remain unbeaten in their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.
The Three Lions failed to impress against their Group C opponents at Wembley despite Gareth Southgate fielding a star-studded line-up.
It was a good result, but an average performance for EnglandCredit: Getty
It was expected that England would sweep Malta aside with ease, but while their dominance showed for long spells. Southgate will be frustrated at their inability to turn superiority into a more comfortable scoreline.
That said, it did give the England boss the opportunity to play around with his squad as he weighs up some big decisions ahead of next summer’s tournament.
But did all of his selection calls pay off? Not quite.
Fikayo Tomori experiment backfires
Among the more questionable decisions when the team news dropped was the inclusion of Fikayo Tomori at left-back.
With Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell ruled out with long-term injuries, Southgate decided to try the AC Milan centre-back out on the left side of his back line with somewhat mixed results.
In truth, Tomori rarely looked comfortable at full-back with England’s side lacking balance while in possession.
The set-up looked much more convincing in the second half when Tomori was brought off and replaced by Kyle Walker at half-time, with Kieran Trippier going to left-back with Walker on the right.
Using Trippier as an inverted left-back isn’t ideal, but the Newcastle man has showed that he’s more than capable of deputising in that role, something that Tomori failed to do.
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Tomori played at left back but struggled to make an impactCredit: Getty
There’s no doubt that the central defender has a role to play for England, but let’s be honest, if he’s going to show that he’d be better served in his natural position.
Missing Jude Bellingham badly
While rarely looking under threat, England missed that game-changer in the middle of the park against Malta.
That was because of a huge, Jude Bellingham-shaped hole in the middle of Southgate’s midfield.
The Real Madrid star has been sensational since moving to the Bernabeu, but missed the clash at Wembley due to a dislocated shoulder.
But on the day that he was given the Golden Boy award – the prize for the best under-21 player in Europe’s top leagues – it was clear that he’s an integral part of England’s plans.
Comfortable on the ball and with a keen eye for goal, Bellingham has the ability to make the game look easy and use his natural intelligence to drift into goalscoring positions – something that would have been very welcome against Malta.
If Southgate was looking to see how his side fared without Bellingham, I think he’ll be quietly desperate for the Madrid star to make a full recovery from his shoulder injury as early as possible.
Trent Alexander-Arnold fails to take midfield chance
Alexander-Arnold was used in a more advanced role, but struggled to carve open Malta’s defenceCredit: Getty
One player who was keen to prove himself in Bellingham’s absence was Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The Liverpool defender was handed the No.10 jersey and given a more advanced role as he looked to prove himself as a more creative component in Southgate’s plans.
Unfortunately for Alexander-Arnold, it was a performance that will have done little to sway the manager’s opinion.
The 25-year-old looked to make things happen against a lacking Malta side, but couldn’t find the crucial final pass on numerous occasions.
He did trouble the visiting goalkeeper late on with an effort from range, but with England looking to compete with the biggest and best nations in the world, it wasn’t a performance that will convince Southgate that he’s the man to unlock the sternest of defences.
Harry Kane extends ridiculous scoring record
It was far from a stellar attacking display from England, but that doesn’t matter when you’ve got a player like Harry Kane.
While the striker’s ability to drop deep makes him a genuine all-round threat for the Three Lions, it’s his ability to score goals in moments of need that have established him as arguably the best striker in world football right now.
Kane bagged England’s second goal in the 2-0 win in somewhat inevitable fashion following his stunning start to the season.
Kane took his stunning goalscoring form for Bayern Munich and brought it back to WembleyCredit: Getty
Since joining Bayern Munich from Tottenham, Kane has scored a staggering 21 goals in 16 matches for the German giants.
On that sort of form, it would have taken a brave person to bet against the 30-year-old adding to his England tally, even if he could have had one in the first half as well after he was denied a penalty for an alleged dive.
But a goal is a goal and with Kane now boasting 23 strikes for club and country this term, there’s no guessing how high his tally might be by the time Euro 2024 rolls around.
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