Five things learnt from England vs Malta
Gareth Southgate’s reign as England interim manager started with a 2-0 victory over Malta at Wembley. Here AFP Sport looks at five things we learnt from Saturday’s World Cup qualifier:
Southgate faces challenges
When Daniel Sturridge put England ahead midway through the first half, Gareth Southgate punched the air as if celebrating a last-minute winner in a cup final.
It was a revealing response from a man who harbours genuine ambitions of turning his temporary spell at the England helm into a permanent position following his unexpected chance to replace Sam Allardyce.
Yet Southgate, who stepped up from coaching England’s Under-21s following Allardyce’s embarrassing exit last week, will have finished his first match in charge with mixed feelings after a largely lethargic England were jeered in the closing stages.
On one hand, England produced patches of entertaining play in the first half to carve open opponents intent only on keeping the score down, but on the other, his team completely lost their way in a dismal second half and the former Middlesbrough boss was unable to turn the tide with his tactics or substitutions.
With few credible alternatives and expectations at an all-time low, Southgate won’t be ruled out yet, but he needs to deliver far more dynamic displays in the remainder of his audition.
No revival from Rooney
Amid the constant debate about the best way to accommodate Wayne Rooney, the England captain was deployed as one of two deep-lying midfielders and looked a fish out of water.
Rooney had been used in midfield by former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal last season with minimal success, but his successor Jose Mourinho insists his best position is in attack.
However, even up front Rooney had been so poor of late that Mourinho dropped the 30-year-old and his failure to dominate midfield against lowly Malta will hardly convince his club manager to change his mind.
After more than a decade as England’s main man, Rooney is in danger of becoming a peripheral figure in the twilight of his career.
Alli on the rise
In a nod to Delle Alli’s vast potential, Southgate selected the Tottenham playmaker as England’s creative lynchpin in the number 10 role behind striker Daniel Sturridge.
That Alli was chosen for the role instead of England captain Rooney was a major feather in the 20-year-old’s cap.
Alli was efficient rather than extravagant but he did enough to suggest he should be given the chance to make the position his own, especially as he demonstrated his eye for goal with a close-range finish in the 38th minute.
Mixed return for Walcott
Theo Walcott was back in the England starting line-up for the first time in 12 months, but the Arsenal winger was unable to transfer his scintillating club form to the international stage.
Walcott was left out of England’s Euro 2016 squad and had made only three international appearances in the last three years, but five goals for Arsenal this term convinced Southgate to give him another chance.
Operating on the right wing, Walcott found it hard to make an impact against defensive Malta, yet his pace will be a potent counter-attacking weapon in future matches against more adventurous opponents.
Sturridge fails to convince
Despite scoring against only second tier Burton in the League Cup this season, Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge was given the task of leading England’s attack and responded by doing another spot of flat-track bullying.
Facing one of the lowest ranked teams in Europe, Sturridge put England ahead with a 29th minute header from Jordan Henderson’s cross.
Yet the 27-year-old also missed two other good chances in the first half in an inconsistent display typical of a career that has promised more than it has actually delivered.