England stuttered over the line to claim a flattering 0-4 victory over Malta on Friday. Despite claiming the vital three points in the end, it was a performance to forget for Gareth Southgate’s men.
Here’s six things the Three Lions boss needs to improve on in order to ensure victory against Slovakia on Monday…
1. Boring England
Nothing quite beats travelling over 1,000 miles to an Island inbetween Italy and Tunisia to see your national team partner Jake Livermore and Jordan Henderson in the heart of midfield.
The Three Lions were lacking creativity and excitement in the middle of the park against Malta, largely down to the fact Southgate opted for two defensive midfielders in his starting line-up.
2. Know Your Opponent
Linking perfectly to the first point on this list, Southgate has to be aware of who he’s facing and set up his team accordingly.
From the outset it was clear Malta’s game plan was to defend in numbers, flood the middle of the park and get the ball as far away from their goal as possible, something that Southgate played into perfectly.
On Monday, England will be defending against the likes of Marek Hamsik, a scenario in which two defensive midfielders would be more understandable.
3. Who’s the Captain?
Please, Gareth, just pick a captain.
Southgate looks as confused as the fans as to who should be given the armband full-time, often changing captain on a game by game basis.
Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane, Joe Hart and Gary Cahill are all in contention for the England captaincy, with Liverpool’s midfielder Henderson given the responsibility on Friday evening.
4. Keep the Ox on the Wing
Regardless of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s desire to play through the middle with club and country, Southgate has to keep him on that right-wing.
The new Liverpool man has shown over the years how dangerous he is running at defenders on the right flank. Showing a great turn of pace on Friday, the only criticism of the Ox was that he didn’t spend enough time giving England options out wide.
5. Why Is Butland Still Not in Goal?
When Torino President Urbano Cairo said he “didn’t expect so many mistakes from Joe Hart”, clearly Gareth Southgate wasn’t listening.
Despite fans calling for goalkeeping prodigy Jack Butland to be given the No 1 spot in between the sticks, England’s manager seems determined to keep Mr Head & Shoulders in goal for the foreseeable future.
6. Don’t Blame Injuries
Although England were certainly missing some key players in Friday’s trip to Malta, the performance Southgate’s side showed was nothing short of catastrophic.
The Three Lions currently have an injury list that most Premier League clubs would love, only missing two or three key players.
Although Adam Lallana’s creative spark was clearly a loss for England, there should be enough quality in that squad to break down even the best of international teams, with positional play in the final third clearly something that needs addressing in training.