England picked up a 2-0 victory against Malta in the World Cup qualifiers on Saturday at Wembley Stadium after goals by Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli.
Both goals came in the first half, and that was definitely when the English players looked the most dangerous. Malta put as many men behind the ball as they could and showed zero intention of trying to go forward. They were clearly there just to keep the scoreline down as much as possible, and they should be given some credit for only giving up two goals against the Three Lions.
Interim manager Gareth Southgate was pleased to pick up a win in his first game in charge.
“We played well in the first half,” Southgate said after the win. “We could and should have had more goals but their goalkeeper made some very good saves.
“Of course we would have liked to have given the fans four or five goals but Malta in their last qualifying campaign had 1-0 defeats against Croatia and Italy. Their goalkeeper played well, they defended in heavy numbers but we still created a lot of chances and could have won it by more.
“We could have moved the ball more quickly and we have to keep focused and make sure we’re not caught in counter attacks but Slovenia will be very different. Malta played a 5-4-1 formation which was always going to be difficult to break down; we managed it but we can improve.
“My job is to get the results that keep us at the top of the group. We’ve achieved that and I know people will have wanted more but now we have to go to Slovenia and get that win.”
England created a slew of chances, and Southgate is correct in his statement that they could have won by a wider margin. They should have won by four or five goals, but they were a bit sloppy with the finishing, something that Alli agreed on.
“I do like to get in the box and get goals and assists and the chances were there tonight, so I can’t complain, but maybe I need to be more clinical,” Alli said.
“[Gareth Southgate] is a fantastic manager, I’ve worked with him before and he knows what I’m about so he just told me to go out there and play my football and try to affect the game.
“It was a solid performance from the boys today, we started the game strongly, we kept the ball and we dominated the game which we knew we would.
“So it’s a good base to keep working on.”
The creativeness was there from the English players, but they will need to improve on their finishing if they are to stay top of their qualification group. Midfielder Jordan Henderson provided assists on both goals, and admitted that they need to be better when they face Slovenia on Tuesday.
“If we’d have put away our chances it would have been more, so that’s probably most disappointing for us as we didn’t get more goals,” Henderson said.
“I thought towards the end we got a little bit sloppy, which we need to work on.
“But overall it’s good to get the three points and we scored a couple of good goals so we’ll be happy with that but we want to progress.”
It wasn’t the best performance by any stretch of the imagination, but Southgate got to start off with a win, and hopefully that takes some of the pressure of the team and they can focus on putting on a better showing against Slovenia.