England v Malta headlines this weekend’s football fixture list less than a fortnight on from the sh*tstorm that saw Sam Allardyce leave his post as Three Lions boss.
Gareth Southgate has been stuck in the dugout for what should be a very easy test for England, albeit one which will be scrutinised to the highest degree.
Malta come to Wembley Stadium without a win in 11 matches – their last victory coming against Lithuania in June 2015 – while they lost their most recent game 5-1 home to Scotland.
Not only should England win, they should do so very convincingly.
In fact, Southgate’s men are odds-on to win by at least four goals.
With Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane out injured, one or more of Marcus Rashford, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy will likely start up front, although Theo Walcott may also fancy his chances after beginning the season in good scoring for Arsenal.
Walcott is 4-1 to break the deadlock on Saturday, while United teenager Rashford and Liverpool squad player Sturridge are joint favourites at 13-5, ahead of Leicester hero Vardy at 11-4.
We expect Sturridge to lead the attack, with Rashford and Walcott used in wide areas.
This will give England pace up front, but that might not be overly useful if, as expected, Malta sit deep and park the bus.
What Walcott and Rashford will be tasked with is stretching the Maltese defenders across the width of the pitch, creating space in the middle for the likes of Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Dele Alli to exploit, while also coming inside to offer an additional goal threat when suitable.
Against a better side, Southgate may opt to play Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson and Tottenham anchor man Eric Dier, but there will simply be no need to invest so heavily in defensive cover on Saturday.
Henderson should get the nod over Dier to operate as the sole defensive midfielder for two reasons. Firstly, the former Sunderland man is in superb form. And, secondly, he generally offers more going forward, which is what England hope to be doing pretty much all night on Saturday.
Ahead of Henderson will almost certainly be Rooney, who is seemingly undroppable on the international scene, while Alli may interchange with the Man United star, switching between the no.8 and no.10 positions as he has done for Spurs for much of this season.
In defence, Tottenham duo Danny Rose and Kyle Walker seem nailed on to play in the full-back positions, while it would be a huge surprise if Man City’s John Stones did not lineup in between them.
Chelsea’s Gary Cahill will probably partner Stones, despite being in dreadful form at club level, because England are far from blessed with trusted options at centre-half.
In goal, Southgate would have to select Southampton stopper Fraser Forster were he picking solely on form. Forster has kept five consecutive clean sheets for the Saints.
However, dropping Torino loanee Joe Hart after what happened at Man City this summer could deal yet another major blow to the 29-year-old’s confidence, so nice-guy Southgate may struggle to do the right thing.
Predicted England XI v Malta