England v Malta Preview: Three Lions look to guarantee top spot with win

16 November 2023

For England, the pressure is off. Gareth Southgate’s side have already booked their place at Euro 2024 with two qualifiers to spare. A win against either Malta or North Macedonia in this international break would guarantee top spot in Group C.

Next summer, however, the pressure will be on. England are currently the favourites to win the tournament at a price of 4.5 with SBK. France are perhaps the only side on the continent with a stronger squad than England, who can call upon some of the world’s best players such as Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham.

The upcoming European Championship is likely to be Southgate’s last tournament in charge of his country. The 53-year-old continues to divide opinion but it is inarguable that he has had more tournament success than any of his recent predecessors. However, despite finishing fourth at the 2018 World Cup and runners-up at Euro 2020, England have yet to lift a trophy under Southgate. He will be desperate to clear that final hurdle next year.

England have been near-flawless in this qualifying group, winning five and drawing one of their six encounters to date. That is particularly impressive when you consider the Three Lions have already played Ukraine and Italy, the next two strongest teams in this section, twice each.

This meeting with Malta at Wembley Stadium will cause England few problems regardless of the XI Southgate selects. Given the strength in depth at the manager’s disposal, it is impossible to please everyone with his call-ups. But it is somewhat surprising that Southgate has neglected to use this international break as a chance to test more of those on the fringes of the squad.

Levi Colwill, Fikayo Tomori, Jarrod Bowen and Aaron Ramsdale - none of whom has more than five caps to his name - are among those who will hope for a chance to show what they can do against either Malta or North Macedonia. Given this is the easier of their two remaining fixtures, England are more likely to experiment on Friday night than in Skopje next week.

Malta are the minnows in Group C, as a record of seven losses out of seven and a goal difference of -16 suggests. On the plus side, Malta only lost by one goal against both North Macedonia and Ukraine, but a 4-0 home defeat by England in June is more instructive for how the return fixture might turn out.

England should find this a very comfortable assignment and we expect them to hold a decisive lead by half-time, before potentially easing off thereafter. With that in mind, I tip the home team to be at least two goals up with 45 minutes on the clock. 

Recommended bet

 First half Asian handicap England -1.5 at 1.7

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