It was pretty predictable, this one. Malta, who are ranked below Tahiti in the FIFA rankings, played with a bank of five defenders, four midfielders in front of that and a striker who looked so isolated he might as well have been at home chilling out back in Malta.
England dominant, Malta’s keeper made some amazing saves. Lingard played well on the left hand side, Walcott not so well on the other flank. Alli through the middle looked lively and Sturridge always wanted to be involved. Cahill and Stones now look to be a solid centre half partnership. Rooney, poor again in this game, seems to be the first choice central midfielder for his country. Baffling.
It was the perfect start for interim manager Southgate who said before the game he hasn’t had time to think about whether he would take the job full time yet. Interestingly, Roberto Mancini watched on from the stands at Wembley tonight, with some saying he was a guest of the FA’s. Could he be the next permanent manager? I’d personally love him to be. Proven in England, his pragmatic Italian methods are well suited to international football. This is also a man who managed to get Mario Balotelli to play some good stuff whilst he was at City. If he’s capable of that, he might be capable of another miracle and coach England to a respectable tournament in 2018 (as long as we don’t draw Iceland). We shall see.
Tougher tests are coming up for Southgate, starting with Slovenia this midweek, who seems to have a clear line up and style of play already for this England team. He will be pleased with the result and performance against Malta; a dream first fixture.
One last thing; a huge thumbs up to the 81,000+ fans who turned up to Wembley tonight. Despite everything that’s happened this year with the national team, the fans are always there, home and away, through thick and thin, regardless of what happens. The best in the world, always will be.