It would be kind to call England’s performance against Malta anything other dire.
Gareth Southgate’s side put a couple of layers of gloss on a painful evening with their three late goals, but it was an evening of sad realisation once again for England fans. The ineptitude of the midfielders, Southgate’s puzzling decision to name two of them in the first place, and the lack of creativity available.
In the absence of Adam Lallana, England have no player comfortable receiving the ball on the half turn between the lines and creating. Launching strikers onto the pitch sort of worked out in the end, but the complete dearth of guile will cost this side, and it raises deeper questions about the state of English development.
Qualification for the World Cup is not under threat, though a poor result versus Slovakia at Wembley could put a bit of pressure on Southgate. England are one of the world’s greatest footballing nations – and have a squad with more talent than many seem to realise – but they continue to look like an also-ran on the international stage.
Harry Kane did score a brace in Malta, at least, so there’s that. England can take some solace from the fact their one true world-beater has eventually found the net this season, but was anyone really that concerned about the golden boot winner?
The ineffectiveness of Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has to be an issue for Southgate. Malta are a team they should be terrifying, but their performances were innocuous for the most part. Marcus Rashford provided a spark, though even his role was overplayed in the post-match chatter.
England make it very hard to be positive about them. Their 7/20 price to overcome Slovakia is perhaps a bit generous. It does, however, reflect the general expectation that they will somehow get the job done. It will not be pretty, but effective.
Slovakia were resolute in the opening game of the group as England squeaked a 1-0 in Ljubliana. The rest of their qualification campaign has continued along the same vain, conceding just four goals in the seven matches to date. A 1-0 victory over Slovenia last time out keeps them within striking distance, too, as they sit two points behind England.
This match is Slovakia’s chance to make their campaign an historic one. They’re 13/2 to leave Wembley with all three points, and that price will certainly receive some backing after England’s abject display on Friday.
The inability of England to create and Slovakia’s defence-first approach make an under 2.5 goals bet an obvious option. The 19/20 price isn’t the best we will see this international break, but still has decent value given the importance of this match for both teams.