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EURO 2024 qualifiers

England’s full-pitch press hurt us, says Marcolini

Marcus Rashford runs through the Malta defence. Photo: Wally Galea

Southgate lauds England’s mentality

The fact that Malta would not manage as many shots as their illustrious opponents England in Friday’s European Championship 2024 qualifier was always going to be an inevitable result given the yawning chasm between the two teams.

Yet in the 90 minutes played, the boys in red did not register a single shot on target. That meagre statistic speaks volumes of Malta’s troublesome evening.

The disappointment at the team’s failure to create a decent attack should not give the impression that coach Michele Marcolini resorted to any ultra-defensive tactics.

On the contrary, Malta did not defend en masse and tried hard to keep possession at times, managing to come out of it confidently.

However, the Reds were given a dose of their own medicine as England harried and hassled throughout, limiting them to just one clear chance and no shots on target.

“We need to give credit to England who used high-press tactics throughout, pressed high all match. Thus, giving us no chance to keep the ball and stroke it around effectively,” Marcolini told a post-match press conference.

The Italian mentor also lamented the huge difference in physical form which has ultimately contributed to Malta’s downfall.

With the Maltese league ending as early as April, some of the English players were still coming out of an intensive end of season.

“England players covered the entire pitch, always going one against one. With this kind of pressure, you cannot build up possession and find gaps in our opponents’ defence,” he explained.

The Malta coach said that the England players forced Malta into several errors when in possession, and thus finishing with no clear chances on goal.

“Let’s be honest, the difference is huge, and one could only hope that our opponents would come here and take the match lightly by underestimating us,” Marcolini said.

“Unfortunately for us, this hasn’t happened tonight as England took the pitch with the right mentality and pressed hard from the word go until the end,” he added.

England manager Gareth Southgate lauded England’s mentality.

“The mentality was excellent from the start. In particular, when we lost the ball, we had an excellent reaction to win it back and that was a sign that the team was in a good place today,” Southgate said.

“We made it look fairly straightforward and we know from our last time here, that was not always the case.

“We were able to put some players on, take off some players and try new things, so
we are very pleased with the performance tonight,” he added.

Southgate was asked about Trent Alexander Arnold’s new role up the pitch with greater freedom to express his creativity.

Saka concerns

Asked if this was a long-term project, the former Middlesbrough defender said: “A lot of what is going to happen will depend on his club (Liverpool).

“The fact he has been playing partly in there with the ball or perhaps a bit deeper has helped his transition, receiving the ball with his back to goal, receiving the ball on the touchline and he was very comfortable in doing that.

“I’ve got no question in my head that he would be able to do it, just learning the movement without the ball but he’s very keen to do it, he has enjoyed the project. We spoke about it four weeks ago on the phone. He is very excited about it and at the end, he can give us something different.”

Southgate dispelled any fears about Arsenal midfielder Bukayo Saka who appeared to have suffered a serious injury following a heavy challenge from Malta captain Steve Borg.

“He is good. We did not take any chances with the scoreline as it was at half-time,” he assured.

On their upcoming match against North Macedonia, the England boss said that “there is training over the next couple of days, which need to be taken into account but what we saw tonight confirmed a couple of things.

“Tonight’s match left one or two things open, but you always have a plan, you have to be flexible,” he said.

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