The post Wayne Rooney England era officially begins tonight as this is the first match since his somewhat surprise retirement last month. The national team record goalscorer was always set to retire at the end of next summer’s World Cup but the fact the bought his decision forward by nearly 12 months caught many unawares.
In fairness though the decision by the Everton forward to retire with immediate effect has arguably done Gareth Southgate a huge favour as now the shadow of Rooney will no longer loom large for every time the player was not selected in the squad.
Tonight life after Rooney takes us to Malta as England look to move one step closer to qualification for the finals in Russia. Not only that though they will be looking to bounce back to winning ways after their dramatic 2-2 draw with Scotland in June.
That was game that only really sparked into life late on as Leigh Griffiths scored a brace of free kicks to almost snatch a win against the ‘Auld Enemy’ he would however be thwarted by Harry Kane who snatched a point with almost the last kick of the game.
The Celtic forward Griffiths has the accolade of being the only person to have breached England’s net in qualification as England have kept five clean sheets out of their first qualifiers. They have however scored 10 at the other end as a number of tight and uninspiring wins have been the order of the day so far.
Malta are still looking for their first point of the group and more importantly are still looking for a first qualification win in 35 matches across both these and European Championship qualifiers. With that in mind they should not provide too much of a threat to Gareth Southgate’s men this evening.
The fact that Malta provide the opposition will be something of a relief to Joe Hart who could arguably do with a clean sheet to his name this season, the West Ham goalkeeper has already conceded 10 goals in the Premier League this season and questions were asked as to whether or not he would be picked tonight.
He has however been given the nod in front of Tom Heaton and Jack Butland, whether this would have been a perfect opportunity to give one of those two a full 90 minutes under their belt after they played a half each in the defeat to France could well be argued though.
Another thing that can be argued is Gareth Southgate’s record as England manager. From the eight matches that he has been in charge he has only won three of them giving him a win record of 37.5%, this is the lowest ratio of any manager that has won at least one game as England manager
A win as expected would take this ratio to 44.4% and move him up to 14th in the all time rankings as England boss, he still has some way to go to be spoken about in the upper echelons of men who have been fortunate or should that be unfortunate enough to be selected as England boss.
In terms of selection there is no Kieran Trippier this time around as he withdraw from the squad due to injury this means that Kyle Walker will win his place back in the right hand side of defence. Whether that is as a traditional full back or as a wing back remains to be seen.
One thing that is for sure though is that nothing less than a win will be excepted by the England fans watching at home, it would be nice to put a team to the sword in this group and get four of five goals in the process but ultimately three points is the most important thing. An away win for me