It seems startlingly obvious to make this point, but it has never been more important for England to avoid any embarrassing slip-ups. Imagine the uproar if Malta left Wembley on Saturday night having just won 1-0?
The Mediterranean island has the weakest squad in Group F and lost 5-1 to Scotland in their opening match. Hull’s Robert Snodgrass helped himself to a hat-trick in that game, and England’s forward players have a great chance to achieve similar feats against Malta.
The match is a great opportunity to restore confidence and Gareth Southgate should tell his players to go out and enjoy themselves. However, if England somehow fail to win, no-one will be laughing louder than our rivals north of the border.
The Slovenia game is admittedly more difficult, particularly as it is away from home in what could be a hostile atmosphere. But English football fans see just how good the players are when they turn out for their clubs most weeks in the Premier League, so it they should still be able to win it comfortably.
Rekindle National Pride
England fans have endured ten horrible years supporting their team. It all started when Steve McLaren’s side failed to qualify for Euro 2008, and continued with the 4-1 loss to Germany at World Cup 2010 when Fabio Capello was in charge.
Next, England lost on penalties for the sixth time in their last nine major tournament appearances – this time to Italy after a boring 0-0 draw at Euro 2012. Then it got even worse, as the Three Lions exited World Cup 2014 at the group stage having failed to win a single game.
That abject failure should have cost Roy Hodgson his job, but he remained in charge to oversee the worst defeat of the lot: a 2-1 reverse against Iceland in Euro 2016.
All these heartbreaking failures mean that England’s top priority should be finding a way to entertain their fans with thrilling football so that they can excited about their national team again. If the players perform to their best and work well together, good results will surely follow.
Build a Playing Style that works
One of the accusations most often levelled at the England football team in recent years is that it lacks a clear identity. The country’s finest players seem to leave the structured environments of their clubs and enter a place that produces muddled, directionless performances.
When fans watched France at Euro 2016, they could see a strategy in motion. Italy’s thinking was even more obvious as they took apart Spain in the last 16 with a tactical masterclass. And Germany, despite losing earlier than they had hoped, seemed to know exactly what they were doing on the pitch – as always.
But England were all over the place. Harry Kane was woefully out of form and his teammates hardly ever passed to him anyway, Wayne Rooney constantly slowed down attacking moves by passing sideways or backwards rather than forwards and Raheem Sterling produced some mazy runs only to miss everyone with his final ball.
These are just three examples of things that should never happen in international football at the highest level. If the team’s strategy had been clear to all the players, they would have worked together to construct intelligent attacks. At no point did we see this happen, not even when England scored, as every time this seemed to happen more by luck than judgment.
Southgate must ensure England start playing a certain way and that all the players buy into this thinking. Any who do not share his vision should be dropped because the team is far more important than any individual. The former international centre-back may not be able to fully form a new identity for his country, but he can definitely start them on the right path.
England’s match against Malta kicks off at 5pm on Saturday 8th October.
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