Alexander-Arnold stars as England rout Malta in Euro qualifier
MDINA (Malta) (AFP) – Trent Alexander-Arnold starred in an unexpected midfield role as England thrashed Malta 4-0 to extend their perfect start to the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign on Friday.
England boss Gareth Southgate sprang a surprise as he deployed Liverpool right-back Alexander-Arnold in central midfield at the Ta’Qali National Stadium.
Alexander-Arnold responded to Southgate’s show of faith by helping set up England’s opener — a Ferdinando Apap own goal — before scoring only his second international goal with a long-range rocket.
Harry Kane’s penalty took him to 56 goals for England as the Three Lions’ record scorer reached 50 competitive goals for his country.
Callum Wilson converted a late penalty for his second England goal to ensure the margin of victory more accurately reflected his side’s dominance.
“Of course we know we have the quality to win the game and then it’s about the mentality. I thought that was excellent from the start,” Southgate said.
England sit top of Group C after a third successive victory following their wins against Italy and Ukraine in March.
With the top two guaranteed to advance to the European Championship in Germany, Southgate’s men host North Macedonia at Old Trafford on Monday looking to move closer to qualification.
Just 19 days after the Premier League season finished and less than a week after Manchester City won the Champions League, England’s weary players had to forget their holiday plans to focus on two more matches at the end of a gruelling campaign.
City stars Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker, Kalvin Phillips and John Stones were on the bench after their treble celebrations.
But Southgate’s Alexander-Arnold experiment gave England a vibrancy in midfield they might otherwise have lacked in the absence of injured Real Madrid new-boy Jude Bellingham.
Alexander-Arnold often shifts into midfield for Liverpool when they have possession, proving a constant danger with his pin-point crossing and accurate passing.
Despite those qualities, Southgate had rarely trusted the right-back to play in his club position for England.
Faced with limited opposition in Malta, Southgate gave Alexander-Arnold a chance in a midfield berth he had filled only once before for England.
“He’s enjoyed the project. He has been excited by it and he showed exactly what we think he could be capable of,” Southgate said.
“He gives us something different to our other midfielders. I have no doubts in my mind he can do it, he’s just learning some nuances without the ball.”
Alexander-Arnold added: “I haven’t played it too much but it feels comfortable. I enjoyed it. It’s somewhere I can see myself playing.
“It’s a new avenue. Hopefully I am one of those players that can be used in a number of positions. It’s important when I get the opportunity, I take it.”
ENGLAND IN COMMAND
Alexander-Arnold took just eight minutes to repay Southgate’s gamble.
His perfectly-weighted long pass picked out Bukayo Saka’s run into the Malta area and the forward’s low cross was turned into his own net by Apap under pressure from Kane.
Alexander-Arnold gave another demonstration of the quality he offers with a sublime goal in the 28th minute.
When a Malta clearance ran to Alexander-Arnold 25 yards from goal, he lashed a superb curling strike into the top corner.
Malta, ranked 172nd in the world, frustrated Italy for long spells of a creditable 2-0 defeat against the reigning European champions in March.
The minnows worked tirelessly against England as well, but Southgate’s team were in complete command and netted again in the 31st minute.
Kane slotted home from the penalty spot after England’s captain was tripped by Matthew Guillaumier.
Having impressed in the Premier League this season, Crystal Palace forward Eberechi Eze made his England debut but had few chances to showcase his emerging talent.
England strolled through a soporific second half before Wilson struck with an 83rd-minute penalty after Steve Borg blocked the Newcastle striker’s cross with his arm.