Malta vs England World Cup Qualifier Preview: Last Time They Met, Key Battle, Team News & More
With the Premier League taking a backseat this weekend due to the return of the World Cup 2018 qualifiers, England travel to Malta on Friday with the aim of halting a poor run of form which has seen them win just once in their last five games.
Gareth Southgate's men know that a win over Slovakia on Monday would put them in a commanding position at the top of group F, but an unprofessional performance against already eliminated Malta could hinder England's aim of reaching top spot.
A win at the Ta'Qali National Stadium is more than expected, but here is everything you need to know before Friday's encounter:
Last Time They Met
England and Malta have only faced each other four times before, with the most recent affair being the Three Lions' 2-0 victory back in October 2016.
Gareth Southgate's first game in interim charge of England was fairly low-key, with goals from Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli before the break sealing their second win of the group.
Sturridge netted a clever header from a Jordan Henderson cross after 29 minutes and any thoughts of an upset were ended when Dele Alli scrambled home a second before half-time.
Southgate admitted that his side should have scored more, England had 20 shots alongside 80% possession, but a heroic performance from Malta 'keeper Andrew Hogg ensured that the side ranked 176th by FIFA left Wembley without being embarrassed.
Steve Borg, Andrei Aigus & Alex Muscat vs Harry Kane
Pietro Ghedin is expected to set up his Malta side in a defensive 5-3-2, which means that Tottenham frontman Harry Kane could have as many as three centre-backs keeping track of him throughout the game.
Kane has endured a torrid start to the Premier League season, featuring three times without scoring and his infamous record of not scoring in August is set to go on for another year.
However, it must not be forgotten that the former Arsenal youth player netted 35 times last season and remains England's most potent striker. Not only would a strong performance from Kane ensure that the Three Lions' will regain some confidence going into their clash with Slovakia, but a couple of goals against Malta may also help kick-start the 24-year-old's Premier League season.
The three Malta centre-backs tasked with keeping Kane at bay all ply their trade in their native country and so should not prove too much trouble for the Spurs striker.
Keeping Kane quiet will not ensure an upset for Malta, but given his poor start to the season this battle will certainly be one that England fans will be looking out for.
With a win more or less expected and a crucial game against second-placed Slovakia on Monday, Southgate may give some fringe options a run out alongside the more established players.
Everton 'keeper Jordan Pickford has withdrawn through injury, but uncapped youngsters Harry Maguire and Nathaniel Chalobah could be in line to make their international bows.
Jack Butland was expected to feature for the first time since fracturing his ankle in a friendly against Germany last year, but Southgate has since mentioned that Joe Hart is "England's best goalkeeper" and will start the game. Michael Keane and Aaron Cresswell could feature from the bench to add to their two caps each.
Following Wayne Rooney's international retirement, manager Southgate has stated that the captain's armband will be "spread through the team" while he decides on a permanent replacement to lead the side, with Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson and Chelsea stalwart Gary Cahill among the leading options.
Malta have a couple of players suspended for the tie, including one of their only two goal scorers so far: Alfred Effiong.
Potential Malta line-up (5-3-2): Hogg; Z. Muscat, Borg, Aguis, A. Muscat, Failla; Kristensen, Fenech, Pisani; Mifsud, Schembri
Potential England line-up (4-2-3-1): Hart; Walker, Cahill, Maguire, Bertrand; Henderson, Chalobah; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alli, Sterling; Kane
England should obviously have too much quality for the game to be much of a contest and will be expected to score more than they did in the reverse fixture last year.
Prediction: Malta 0-4 England