Although it was only Malta, England’s national football team had one of their best performances of recent years as they kept 80% of the possession, were firing on all cylinders and eased past the Southern European nation to a 2-0 win in World Cup 2018 qualifying.
I’ve hardly ever seen any team keep 80% of the football in a match and it demonstrates just how England are and how they actually are one of the best footballing nations on the planet. Even though they were playing against one of Europe’s worst footballing nations, keeping that much possession and being so productive with it is impressive for any side.
In Gareth Southgate’s first match charge England were absolutely running rampant despite the low scoreline. His 4-2-3-1 formation worked to perfection and every single player from start to finish had a positive impact on the game. The most pleasing thing about England’s victory was how good of a partnership in midfield Jordan Henderson and Wayne Rooney were as a two in front of the back four. The pair completely dictated the tempo of the match and both played a massive role in every single attack for England. Every single time the Three Lions lost possession of the ball, Wayne Rooney was there to win it back. The captain made 5 tackles, more than any other player on the pitch showing how defensively solid he was in front of the back four. But the most impressive part about Rooney’s game on Saturday was his passing and the way he controlled the game from deep in the midfield. The Manchester United player had 177 touches on the ball, made 153 passes and was highly inventive with his passes, making 14 long balls and showing that he wasn’t just making sideways passes as he has been recently criticized for.
Although Rooney was very good against Malta, the star of the show was undoubtedly his central midfield partner Jordan Henderson who has looked a reformed man this season under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Henderson did 11 better than Rooney with 187 touches on the ball and 178 passes and was directly involved in both goals, assisting Daniel Sturridge’s opening header and creating Dele Alli’s goal as well. On top of that, he was a just a constant presence on the ball in midfield and never let any Maltese player in behind him or even get close to England’s back four. Although Eric Dier is likely to come back into the side when he becomes fit again, I have always maintained that Henderson is the better option and think that the Liverpool captain would be extraordinarily unlucky to lose his place in the side any time soon.
The whole of England’s squad just looks so good at the moment and they have so much strength in depth that it is still a mystery to me how Roy Hodgson couldn’t get them past the Round of 16 at the European Championships in the summer. Even without Lallana, Kane and Sterling against Malta, they were absolutely sublime. Jesse Lingard was superb and looks like he could be a very important weapon for England in the future. Kyle Walker had another fine afternoon, bombing down that right hand side and whipping in cross after cross. Meanwhile John Stones and Gary Cahill look to be forming a positive partnership at the back and Dele Alli who has only recently burst on to the scene was England’s biggest threat!
It was Daniel Sturridge who opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a fantastic header from a Jordan Henderson cross and then soon afterwards it was those two players linking up yet again at the top of the 18-yard box before Henderson found Dele Alli inside of the area who was stopped once by the Maltese goalkeeper Andrew Hogg before banging in the rebound for 2-0. From that point on, England kept all of the possession, Malta never found their way into England’s final third and it became a walk in the park as the Three Lions cruised to their first win under Gareth Southgate as manager.
England look very good at the moment and full of confidence. There were absolutely no distractions about the Sam Allardyce situation and if they can keep performing to this level they will be a team to watch out for at the World Cup in 2018.