That's why you start Trent Alexander-Arnold! Winners and losers as England walk all over Malta

Comments (0)
Trent Alexander-Arnold Harry Kane England
England eased their way to a 4-0 victory in Malta thanks to a virtuoso display from Alexander-Arnold in midfield

Trent Alexander-Arnold showed he is the future of England's midfield and if his performance in the 4-0 demolition of Malta is anything to go on, it can be a very bright one. The 24-year-old was the standout player in a one-way match for Gareth Southgate's side, helping set up the first goal before scoring a scorching strike of his own.

England have three wins out of three in European qualifying and while that is great news for the Three Lions, it spells bad news for anyone who wants to watch an actual contest.

Speaking of bad news, the case to reform the current handball rules was made once more as Malta's captain Steve Borg was harshly penalised despite doing everything he could to try and avoid handling the ball.

GOAL breaks down the winners & losers from Ta' Qali National Stadium...

  1. WINNER: Trent Alexander-Arnold
    Getty Images

    WINNER: Trent Alexander-Arnold

    Alexander-Arnold has played a scandalously low amount of games for England given his talent, with Southgate always preferring the experience of Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier over the Liverpool man's adventurous play.

    But he may well have found his ticket to a regular place in the starting line-up after both a dominant and thrilling performance in midfield. Malta's lack of intensity may have played to his strengths, but Alexander-Arnold took full advantage, demonstrating all the characteristics which make him such an enticing option in midfield.

    He underlined his capacity to open up games with his delightful reverse pass towards Saka which gave England an early lead, while his goal was another work of art, a splendid strike despite the fact that he, in his own words, miscontrolled the ball initially.

    He also showed industry and kept working hard until full-time. Alexander-Arnold can expect to start in midfield again in Monday's game against North Macedonia and on this evidence he should be starting in England's midfield in Euro 2024 in Germany and for many years to come.

  2. LOSER: Spectators hoping for some excitement
    Getty Images

    LOSER: Spectators hoping for some excitement

    You can't really blame Malta for not making this game more of a contest. They are ranked 172nd in the world while England are fifth. They have never qualified for a major tournament, while England were a penalty shootout away from winning the last European Championship and reached the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

    Given the disparities between the two footballing nations, a 4-0 result was almost worth celebrating from Malta's perspective. But European qualifiers are becoming more and more dull since the competition was expanded to 24 teams and there is barely any sense of jeopardy for a nation like England.

    UEFA recently resisted the urge to further expand the the tournament to 32 teams after being warned that the qualifiers would plummet in value to broadcasters as they would become too predictable. Yet it is a wonder that those showing the games haven't already come to the same conclusion with the current format, particularly when the gap in quality between sides such as England and Malta is so vast.

  3. WINNER: Callum Wilson
    Getty Images

    WINNER: Callum Wilson

    Wilson may have got some fortune in earning a penalty which would never have been given in the pre-VAR era and should still not have been awarded. But his persistence at least paid off after a tireless performance off the bench and he held his nerve from the spot to score his first England goal for five years and his first in a competitive match.

    With Ivan Toney unable to play any football again until next January while he serves his eight-month ban for gambling, Wilson looks set to be England's second-choice centre-forward heading into Euro 2024.

    He has just had the best season of his career despite being 31 and has Champions League football to look forward to with Newcastle. Wilson is at the peak and, if he can keep clear of injuries, he can achieve a hell of a lot with club and country in the next 12 months.

  4. LOSER: Kalvin Phillips and other holding midfielders
    Getty Images

    LOSER: Kalvin Phillips and other holding midfielders

    While Alexander-Arnold weaved his magic on the pitch, Kalvin Phillips must have been fretting about his England future. The right-back-turned-midfielder offers so much more than the Manchester City man and now that Southgate has seen what Alexander-Arnold can do further forward, it is difficult to see a way back for Phillips.

    Phillips formed a highly effective if unexciting double pivot with Declan Rice during Euro 2020 and the pair started England's 2-1 win away to Italy in their opening qualifier for Germany 2024.

    But if Alexander-Arnold can keep up this level of performance regularly than Phillips is set for the same marginal role for his country that he is now used to with his club.

  5. WINNER: Eberechi Eze
    Getty Images

    WINNER: Eberechi Eze

    Eze has come a long way to make his England debut. On the day he ruptured his Achilles during training for Crystal Palace in May 2021, he discovered he had been selected in England's provisional squad for the European Championship.

    It was an extra kick in the teeth for the youngster but when he made his long-awaited return to the squad this week, he said he had learned to view that agonising setback as just another hurdle he needed to climb. He even described it as fate, something he had to go through.

    If that was character building then it sure worked because in his first outing for England, the forward was hungry and ambitious. He relished taking on defenders and seemed on a mission to excite the travelling England fans. Eze's actions may not have led to any goals but he showed he has the capacity to light up international matches and he is sure to get many more opportunities in an England shirt.

  6. LOSER: Referees' interpretation of the handball rule
    Getty Images

    LOSER: Referees' interpretation of the handball rule

    Steve Borg did everything he could to avoid conceding a penalty for handball. When Callum Wilson sent his cross into the box, the Malta captain tucked his arms as close to his chest as was humanly possible. He made no attempt to block to the ball with his arm, and, short of jumping out of the way or diving to the floor, could do nothing to prevent the inevitable.

    Yet as soon as the referee got the signal to go and review the play on the VAR monitor, we all knew what was coming. Officials appear to be obliged to penalise accidental handballs, no matter how minor the offence.

    Fortunately, the game was already over as a contest. But that is often not the case, and as we saw in the FA Cup final, a senseless penalty given for an accidental handball through no fault of the player can turn a game on its head. UEFA and FIFA urgently need to tackle the situation to prevent the sport being turned into a joke and matches being won or lost due to the most marginal of infractions.