Verdict: Under 4.5 goals
Best Odds: 10/11
Even if England enjoyed a perfect start to the 2018 World Cup qualifiers by winning in Slovakia, everything that has been going on over the last few weeks will definitely put pressure on the Three Lions ahead of the clash with Malta, who are not exactly cannon fodder despite being soundly beaten by Scotland in Ta’Qali.
England legend Alan Shearer described the country’s national team as “the laughing stock of world football” after the Sam Allardyce incident, and we cannot help but agree with the former Newcastle United striker. The Three Lions didn’t need any more embarrassments after the disappointing Euro 2016 tournament, but Big Sam made sure to further damage the team’s reputation and it is now up to Gareth Southgate to pick up the pieces. The new manager doesn’t actually have a lot of time to introduce his ideas and will have to improvise in the next three World Cup qualifiers, starting from the match against minnows Malta. As expected, Southgate didn’t make too many changes to the playing squad, although he has been hit with several withdrawals. The manager surprised everyone by handing call-ups to Glen Johnson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Jesse Lingard and Michael Antonio also get a chance to impress. Considering everything that he been going on since the Euro 2016 finals, chances are that England players will be under pressure, so don’t expect them to produce an inspired performance and hammer Malta at Wembley. They will rather be quite happy to avoid a potential banana skin and record a win that ensures they remain on course to Russia.
Even though he received a call-up after a two-year absence, Glen Johnson is not in contention due to injury, with uncapped Michael Keane called to replace him.
Andros Townsend was drafted after Raheem Sterling had puled out, but there are no other selection worries for Gareth Southgate.
Malta have long been considered one of Europe’s weakest sides, and while their results are still pretty disappointing, the Falcons appear to have closed the gap behind their regular opponents. The team rarely suffer heavy defeats nowadays, but rather lose most games by a single goal margin or by two goals, but the new qualifying campaign did not have the best of starts for them as they were beaten 5-1 at home by Scotland. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the result at half-time was 1-1, and Scotland scored three goals after defender Jonathan Caruana had been sent off. This is not to say that Malta can cause England too many problems at Wembley, but they can definitely frustrate their more illustrious opponents with a defence-minded approach and hard work, so we don’t think the final scoreline will be too harsh on them. It is important to note that Malta did not concede more than two goals in any of their away fixtures in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, and they faced sides like Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Norway and Azerbaijan. And having scored just one goal in the process, another low-scoring affair appears on the cards.
Clifford Gatt Baldacchino and Roderick Briffa have lost their places in the squad, but talismanic striker Michael Mifsud is on the roster.
Jonathan Caruana and Luke Gambin are both suspended, with the latter left out of the squad for the games against England and Lithuania.
Key Factors to Consider
- Under 2.5 goals were scored in Malta’s last six qualifiers on the road
- Malta scored 3 goals in last 10 competitive fixtures on the travels
- England conceded one goal at Wembley in the previous campaign
- The Three Lions won all three fixtures against Malta
- Only one of those were recorded by a big margin
Given the intense pressure the players are in at the moment, England cannot be trusted to produce a quality performance on Friday evening, and defence-minded Malta will not make it easy for them. There are rarely too many goals when the Falcons are on the road, and we fully expect the trend to continue.
Verdict: Under 4.5 goals
Best Odds: 10/11
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