England’s World Cup qualifying campaign took them to Malta tonight, where Gareth Southgate’s men were looking to maintain their two point lead at the top of group F.
Despite being frustrated by their limited opponents for long periods, and often failing to break down a deep-lying and well-manned defence, Harry Kane finally gave England an early second-half lead when he fired home after good play by teammate Dele Alli.
As the game petered out and Malta tired, the Three Lions added three more goals in the final six minutes, with Ryan Bertrand, Danny Welbeck and Kane again adding some sheen to a largely insipid and uninspired performance.
So how exactly did the players rate? The Boot Room offers its verdict here:
Joe Hart – A relatively easy night for the stopper, who was a controversial choice given his form for Torino and West Ham during the last year. With Malta defending deep and in numbers he had little involvement during the game, aside from operating as a sweeper keeper and distributing the ball from the back when required. In fact, Hart did not have a single save to make during the 90 minutes, so it remains hard to determine whether or not he should be retained as England’s number one. 6
Kyle Walker – The right-back was typically energetic up and down the touchline, while Malta’s lack of genuine attacking threat enabled him to supplement England’s forwards at will. Despite this, fans will probably not be surprised to know that his final ball was disappointing, making it difficult for the Three Lions to make the most of the time and space that they were afforded in the wide areas. 5
Phil Jones – The Manchester United centre-back has been imperious during the opening three games of the Premier League season, so his call-up as Gary Cahill’s partner was more than justified. He was, aggressive, solid throughout and defended well when called upon, save for a couple of second-half misjudgements as Malta began to press. 6
Gary Cahill – Like his partner, Cahill defended on the front foot from the first whistle, pressing Farrugia well and looking to maintain as high a line as possible. He was solid and largely untroubled, although he could arguably have done more to step out from the back and provide a little more composure in possession. 7
Ryan Bertrand – Like Walker, Bertrand spent most of his time in Malta’s half, looking to support the attack and link-up with his forwards. However, he was not quite as ambitious as Walker in terms of overlapping and perhaps a played a little too conservatively given the standard of the opposition. He did manage to score the decisive second (and his first) England goal late on, striking from distance with a swerving shot across the goalkeeper. 6
Jordan Henderson – Gareth Southgate’s decision to spread the England’s captaincy smacks of indecision, while it also hints at the lack of genuine leadership that exists within the squad. Henderson was the main man against Malta, although he struggled to impose himself in a relatively deep and restricted midfield role. His passing lacked tempo and ambition, preventing England from moving the ball quickly and putting Malta under sustained periods of pressure throughout. 5
Jake Livermore: Livermore’s selection as a genuine holding midfielder was a strange one, particularly when you consider that England boasted 78% possession of the ball during the first-half. The West Bromwich Albion midfielder also failed to dictate the tempo of England’s game, preferring to retain possession with short, sideways passes rather than looking to play the ball forward quickly and feed the creative talents like Dele Alli when they were able to find pockets of space. 5
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Liverpool’s new signing was selected in a right-wing position against Malta, where he clearly had instructions to hog the touchline and add genuine width to England’s play. He was certainly disciplined in this respect, while his direct running also enabled him to get in behind the Maltese backline on several occasions. His final ball was disappointing, but he at least threatened in the wide areas. 6
Dele Alli – Despite his tender age, Dele Alli shoulders the creative burden in the current England team, with his movement, guile and eye for goal capable of turning a game in an instant. This weight of expectation appears to weigh heavy at times, and Alli struggled against the massed ranks of Malta’s packed and hard-working defence. Like we say, he was not helped by poor service from the midfield, but this is a game and a performance that Alli will want to forget in a hurry. 5
Raheem Sterling – A frustrating night for the Manchester City man, who has endured a mixed start to the new season and seemed somewhat unsettled by the Telegraph reports that he was offered to Arsenal as part of a proposed deal for Alexis Sanchez. He was also targeted by some heavy Maltese tackles early on, before resorting to some niggly fouls of his own as his first touch and final ball continued to lack any kind of sharpness. He was replaced by Marcus Rashford at half-time. 5
Harry Kane – While we all know that Harry Kane hates August, he finds September far more palatable. The first day of the new month brought two goals for the Tottenham striker, in a game during which the forward struggled to find space or successfully bring others into play on a regular basis. Despite this, his finishing was excellent when it mattered the most, with Kane scoring twice from the six shots that he had on goal during the 90 minutes. 7
Marcus Rashford – A half-time substitute for the ineffective Sterling, Rashford added a new dimension to England’s attack with his raw pace, intelligent movement and awareness of others. Threatening on the left and simply superb when switched to the right to accommodate Danny Welbeck, his delightful ball set up Kane’s second goal while a stunning back-heel also afforded Kyle Walker a shooting chance late on. 8
Jamie Vardy – The Leicester striker replaced Alli with 20 minutes to go, as Southgate looked to punish a tiring Malta with a two-pronged strike-force. Vardy was typically lively and full of running, although aside from one run and shot at goal he failed to have any kind of impact in the final third. 5
Danny Welbeck -Despite only arriving with 14 minutes to go, Welbeck reaffirmed his reputation as one of England’s most consistent players with a lively and dynamic cameo. He added pace, movement and tempo in attack, while he even managed to find the net with a looping finish from Harry Kane’s pass late on. 7