“Why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder?” Well Jurgen, because he was MOTM for England…
JORDAN PICKFORD: Genuinely could have been replaced by a pot plant.
KIERAN TRIPPIER: Stifled in the first half as he sat behind both Bukayo Saka and Trent Alexander-Arnold, prompting Twitter to explode with ‘YoU THink tHIs gUY is BEttEr thAn TRenT’ tweets, not helped by some poor set-piece delivery, but got rather more involved after the break when that flank was less crowded. Did nothing wrong defensively on a night when another ‘right-back’ was always going to take the spotlight.
MARC GUEHI: Looked nervous with his first touch but grew in confidence when he realised there was basically no defending to do. Got noticeably more progressive with his passing as the game wore on and was competent when shunted out to left-back when actual only left-back Shaw was given a rest.
HARRY MAGUIRE: Always looking for the pass to break the lines, this was a game made for Maguire’s skill-set – no pace required, just some bulky man-handling, some passing along the back, and then the odd excellent pass when there was a gap in the Maltese midfield. Nobody who squeals about his inclusion will be convinced by this display but once again, Maguire was perfectly good for England.
LUKE SHAW: A predictable and consistent presence at full-back, showing the physical strength and judgement to thrive at one end of the pitch while producing at least one excellent cross for Harry Kane at the other. The excellent and diligent cover of Jordan Henderson and James Maddison’s tendency to drift inside made him the more forward-thinking of the full-backs. A mature performance.
DECLAN RICE: His 60th game of the season might well have been one of his easiest. There was some mild tidying-up to do and then some trademark popping up at the edge of the box to shoot/recycle the ball. Honestly hard to remember anything of note but these are not the nights to prove you are worth £100m as a defensive midfielder.
TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD: “Why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder?”
Because he’s really bloody good at it, Jurgen. Or at least he is against Malta where the midfielders stand off and allow you to ping 40-yard balls and the goalkeeper stands miles off his line when you shoot from outside the box. In all seriousness, the love-in was nauseating but this was an excellent performance from Alexander-Arnold, who is a far better forward-thinking footballer than a defender.
JORDAN HENDERSON: The usual intelligence and selflessness from Henderson, who took responsibility for covering Shaw and sprayed the ball predictably well under very little pressure. Still clearly has a part to play for England at least until Euro 2024.
BUKAYO SAKA: Will only get minimal credit for the opener despite a) making the run and b) putting a first-time ball across the box, because Trent, but had a lively 45 minutes before picking up a knock. Showed a couple of nifty turns of pace to burn off the Maltese defence as he showed once again why he has been undroppable for England over the last 12 months. The boy is special.
HARRY KANE: Will be gutted to have an hour against Malta and only have a penalty to show for it. Should have scored a second when set up by Phil Foden in the second half but his dink was well below par. Probably needs a rest after a long old season holding up half of north London.
JAMES MADDISON: Lovely turn when he allowed the ball to roll past him in the build-up to Alexander-Arnold’s goal as he caused Malta all sorts of problems in that inside-left position. Pressed diligently – no England player made more tackles – and deserved more for his efforts than one frankly sh*t free-kick. Lost possession rather too much for Gareth Southgate’s liking, you would think. Probably still behind the Manchester City boys in the pecking order.
PHIL FODEN (on for Saka, 46): Created five chances in 45 minutes. You’d be f***ed off, wouldn’t you?
TYRONE MINGS (on for Shaw, 60): Absolutely fine.
MARCUS RASHFORD (on for Henderson, 60): Always on the front foot, always looking to make things happen. A lovely option.
CALLUM WILSON (on for Kane, 60): Nice penalty. Hustled. Bustled.
EBERECHI EZE (on for Maddison, 69): Looked bright. Looked tricky. Looked not quite confident enough with a shot that was blocked.