Trent Alexander-Arnold scored a stunner and sparkled in midfield as England continued their march to Euro 2024 with a comprehensive victory against minnows Malta.
The talented full-back has rarely looked like the player that shines for Liverpool when donning a Three Lions shirt, with the immense competition at right-back also restricting his opportunities.
Alexander-Arnold won just his 19th England cap on Friday night against Malta and impressed in a midfield role, helping to inspire Gareth Southgate’s side to a straightforward 4-0 victory.
The 24-year-old made an impact from outset at the sold-out Ta’ Qali National Stadium, with this exceptional early pass putting Bukayo Saka behind to produce a cross that Ferdinando Apap turned into his own goal.
Alexander-Arnold continued to star and produced a moment of magic in the 28th minute, taking aim from 23 yards as he curled home just his second England goal.
The midfielder also had a hand in England’s third goal, winning the ball high up the pitch at the start of a move that ended with Harry Kane scoring a penalty.
There was a far better mood in the away section than the last trip to Malta in 2017, when Southgate’s side were jeered off after a scoreless first half as many travelling fans made an early exit.
Large numbers of England fans again departed at half-time this time around, but it was to toast a job well done rather than to grumble over beers like six years ago.
In truth, they missed little aside from substitute Callum Wilson converting a late penalty as Southgate’s men continued their 100 per cent start in Group C.
England were on the front foot from the outset against the side ranked 172nd in the world, with Alexander-Arnold quick to make his mark.
First his lively run down the right brought a corner from which Harry Maguire – booed by some locals – had penalty appeals rejected before Kane’s low strike was stopped.
Then in the eighth minute, Alexander-Arnold showed his quality when taking a touch and sending a tremendous ball over the top of the Maltese backline to put Saka behind.
The forward met the pass with a first-time cross that Kane was ready to convert, only for Apap to get there first and turn into his own goal.
Saka struck over and James Maddison saw a free-kick comfortably saved as England controlled the match before stepping on the gas in the 28th minute.
Maddison was unable to follow a lovely turn with a killer pass, but Malta’s block fell nicely for Alexander-Arnold. The midfielder took a touch and fired an excellent strike across goalkeeper Henry Bonello in front of the 4,100 travelling fans.
Things quickly got worse for the hosts. Alexander-Arnold won the ball and started a move that saw a Declan Rice drive parried, with Kane then stopped by a clumsy Matthew Guillaumier challenge.
The skipper stepped up to the resulting penalty, firing down the middle as Bonello committed to his right.
The potential for another spot-kick was dismissed despite Saka needing treatment following a tackle that likely explained his half-time withdrawal. Phil Foden, fresh from Manchester City’s treble celebrations, replaced him.
Some England fans decided to forego the second half in favour of drinks back in lively St Julian’s – perhaps not the worst decision judging by the 45 minutes that followed.
Kane was replaced shortly after hitting a limp attempt as part of a triple change on the hour mark. Marcus Rashford was among those coming on – his first appearance in a qualifier since November 2019.
Eberechi Eze soon came on for his debut as the sheer number of changes took the sting out of an already simple assignment, with the VAR giving England the chance to add gloss to the scoreline.
Referee Igor Pajac pointed to the spot after being advised to check a possible handball by Malta skipper Steve Borg from Wilson’s attempted cross.
The Newcastle striker stepped up and sent Bonello the wrong way from the 83rd-minute penalty – Wilson’s second England goal and the last of an easy night in the Mediterranean.