Malta vs England Preview: Three Lions looking to cement their position at the top of Group F with a win

England will be looking to get back to winning ways in their upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Group F as they take on Malta at Ta' Qali Stadium on Friday evening. 

The Red Lions last played in a friendly away at France back in June as they were beaten 3-2 by Didier Deschamps' side. Harry Kane found the back of the net twice but it was not enough as goals from Samuel Umtiti, Djibril Sidibé and Ousmane Dembélé condemned Gareth Southgate's side to an unfortunate defeat. 

As for Malta, their last match was a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match away at Slovenia in which they were beaten 2-0. They will know that they will be in for an even tougher test on Friday evening against the favourites to win the group.

How they've fared in Group F so far 

England have really struggled to build any sort of consistency in regards to their performances or results since the disastrous 2-1 defeat to Iceland in the Round of 16 at UEFA EURO 2016 in France. The controversy surrounding Sam Allardyce did not help matters but England now have a manager who knows the set-up well in the form of Southgate.

The Red Lions remain unbeaten in their opening six qualifying matches, winning four and drawing two. This sees them sat top of Group F, two points clear of Slovakia who sit in second place. It should be a relatively comfortable ride for Southgate's side from now on and two wins from two over the next few days would certainly be a huge boost. 

England's last qualifying match saw them draw 2-2 away at Scotland courtesy of a very late equaliser from Kane. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had put the Red Lions ahead twenty minutes from time before two stunning free-kicks from Lee Griffiths gave the Scots a shock lead. However, Kane volleyed home in the third minute of injury time to rescue his country a point. 

Southgate will be aware that his side need six points from their next two matches to ensure that they extend or at least maintain the two point gap between them and Slovakia. However, England supporters will be expecting not only two good results but also two good performances after some disappointing showings in recent times. 

As for Malta, they have lost all six of their opening qualifying matches and will be essentially playing for pride in the remainder of their matches. They will be looking forward to playing against an England side full of talent but at the same time will be eager to try and cause an upset.

Despite the fact they have lost all of their qualifying matches so far, majority of them have been narrow defeats by a one or two goal margin. This shows that they certainly have the defensive capability to frustrate England and will be looking to keep the game goalless for as long as possible and hope that Southgate's side begin to get frustrated.

Last time they met

England have a faultless record against Malta having beaten them in all of their previous four meetings. Their last meeting was Southgate's first game as England manager and he got off to a winning start with a 2-0 victory courtesy of goals from Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli.

It took the Red Lions half an hour to open the scoring on that occasion and they will be desperate to open the scoring early on again on Friday night. The longer they go without finding the back of the net, the more belief Malta will gain and this could make it very difficult for Southgate's side. 

Gareth Southgate will be hoping his side can cement their position at the top of Group F. (picture: Getty Images / Laurence Griffiths)
Gareth Southgate will be hoping his side can cement their position at the top of Group F. (picture: Getty Images / Laurence Griffiths)

Team news 

Southgate has had to deal with both Jordan Pickford and Kieran Trippier withdrawing from the squad through injury but he still has plenty of options to choose from for this match. He does not shy away from making changes to his starting line-up and it will certainly be interesting to see who is included in this one.

Both Harry Maguire and Nathaniel Chalobah will be hoping they have done enough in the Premier League for Leicester City and Watford respectively to prove that they are worthy of a place in Southgate's starting line-up as they look to make their debut for the national side. 

Kane is likely to start upfront for the Red Lions but Southgate has plenty of other attacking options to choose from such as Jermain Defoe, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Danny Welbeck, Jamie Vardy and Sturridge. This should be enough firepower to see off Malta and cement their place at the top of Group F.