With all the press surrounding Gareth Southgate taking charge of England following Big Sam’s dismissal, the ex-Middlesbrough manager’s first game at the helm almost became a sideshow.
Southgate’s debut as manager of the national team started with a comfortable 2-0 win against Malta, thanks to goals from Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Tottenham’s Dele Alli.
With England facing a side ranked 167th in the world, there was less emphasis on the victory – which was seen as almost a formality – and more on Southgate’s team selection and the form of one player in particular.
Fans and pundits alike were keen to see how captain Wayne Rooney would be used having struggled for form this season, resulting in Jose Mourinho dropping him for Manchester United.
Before the game, Southgate called for a “brave” performance from an England side and claimed they would have the freedom to play exciting football.
So which players delivered? Football FanCast looks at three things we learned from England 2-0 Malta.
Southgate sprang a bit of surprise in his team selection, keeping faith in his captain but moving him into a deeper role next to Jordan Henderson.
Rooney didn’t particularly impress, tending to play his “Hollywood balls” to the full-backs rather than the killer passes his manager would hope for.
He also lost possession more times (25) than he gained it (14), a stat which doesn’t make kind reading for a player charged with retaining the ball.
Henderson looked a lot more comfortable on the other hand – moving the ball nicely and playing some dangerous crosses – and laid on the first goal for his Liverpool teammate.
After a stunning breakout season and productive start to this campaign, many people wanted to see the Tottenham midfielder in his strongest position – behind the striker.
Southgate gave him his chance and he didn’t disappoint, grabbing the second goal and proving a constant threat to the Maltese defence throughout.
The 20-year-old managed three shots on target and provided a constant surging presence throughout the middle to cap a promising display.
A few more performances like that and Alli will end up taking the number ten shirt from Wayne Rooney.
With three premier league goals this season and a hat-trick on his under-21 debut against Norway, a number of England fans were clamouring for Marcus Rashford to start.
The 18-year-old had to settle for a place on the bench, however, as Southgate opted to start Daniel Sturridge. Rashford did come on for Theo Walcott in the 68th minute but was ineffective out wide.
While Sturridge took his goal well, he should have added more, having blazed the easiest of his five more chances to score over the bar.
If Southgate is going to play Rashford, it needs to be through the middle where he can finish chances rather than create them.