Malta v England
World Cup Group F Qualifier
Friday, 19:45
Live on ITV

England in control despite unimpressive campaign

England remain in control of Group F despite a far from impressive campaign to date, winning four and drawing two of their six games played.

A 3-0 win over Scotland at Wembley in November has so far been the highlight, but 2-0 home victories over group minnows Malta and Lithuania respectively merely 'got the job done', and nothing more.

It's away from home where Gareth Southgate's men have failed to impress however. The Three Lions needed a 95th minute goal in Slovakia to take the points, could manage just a 0-0 draw in Slovenia, and then required a 93rd minute Harry Kane equaliser to save their blushes at Hampden Park just a few months ago.

England have also lost away International Friendly matches to Germany and France in between World Cup Qualifiers meaning they are yet to taste victory on their travels under Southgate's leadership.

Rather bizarrely, a massive 28-man squad - minus the retired Wayne Rooney - was named by Southgate for Friday's game against Malta and Monday's Wembley clash with Slovakia though Jordan Pickford has since withdrawn due to injury. But despite the large squad it's likely Southgate will name his strongest, and most familiar, starting XI in Malta.

Pride at stake for group minnows

It's six games played and six losses in Group F so far for Malta, but apart from their opening game 1-5 home defeat to Scotland they've remained competitive, never losing by more than a two-goal margin, and in three of those games, by pure coincidence, they conceded a deflating 84th minute goal each time.

Pietro Ghedin's men recorded a morale-boosting 1-0 away win over the Ukraine as recently as June, and despite them sitting bottom of Group F with absolutely nothing to play for but pride, the visit of England will be one of the country's biggest games in their history and you can rest assured they won't be rolling over.

In terms of personnel Malta's star man is former Coventry striker Michael Mifsud who has a tremendous record go 40 international goals in his 127 caps earned, while Luton fans will be hoping winger Luke Gambin is given the opportunity to shine against the Three Lions.

Victory beckons for England but it may take time

England can be backed at just 1.05 to take the three points and I'm probably stating the obvious when I say that's a price that we can happily leave alone on this occasion.

I'm not suggesting that Southgate's men won't win, but for a team's that's struggled on the road so far in this campaign, against one that rarely takes a beating, then 1.05 isn't a price I want to be taking about an England victory. The Draw can be backed at 26.00, while a shock home win is available to back at 95.00.

One market that is of interest however is the Half Time/Full Time market, and a chance is taken on the Draw/England option at around the 5.00 mark.

This is by no means a vintage England team, and as we've mentioned already they didn't score until very late in Slovakia, failed to score in Slovenia, and both of their goals away to Scotland came in the second half also.

Malta were goalless at half-time against both Lithuania and at home to Slovenia before eventually losing, they were level with Slovakia until the 41st minute, and in their away game to Slovenia the hosts didn't score until the last kick of the first half.

It's by no means impossible to envisage Ghedin's men keeping England at bay until at least half-time.

Go low on goals in the hope of a drab affair

It's 10/11 each of two in the Over/Under 3.5 Goals market on the Sportsbook and I'm happy to wager we'll see fewer than four goals on Friday night, much for the reasons already mentioned.

It's an outcome that has occurred in six of Malta's last seven matches - including when England managed just a 2-0 victory at Wembley last October - and in five of the Three Lions' six qualifiers played so far. It would have been six but for Kane's late goal in Scotland.

Southgate comes across as an extremely intelligent manager, and he speaks superbly, but on the pitch his teams haven't exactly set the world alight under his guidance as of yet. There's still time of course for this maturing side but Southgate strikes me as a defensive-minded boss who puts a big emphasis on keeping clean sheets.

I expect England to keep this game tight and be very patient, and when they do go a goal or two ahead, don't expect them to keep the foot down with Monday's potentially more difficult game against Slovakia just around the corner.

Recommended Bets
Back Draw HT/England FT @ 5.00
Back Under 3.5 Goals @ 10/11 (best bet)

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