A lot can be learned from the demolition of Malta in Ta’ Qali despite the level of opposition. Just how optimistic can Scotland be?
Currently ranked 176 in the FIFA world rankings, Malta are a side Scotland should be expected to beat, something they duly obliged to.
Despite being expected to win, the stats show just how good a win it was. It was the first time a visiting side had won in Malta by four goals in eight years.
Dominating the ball for the majority of the match, Scotland started the match brilliantly after Robert Snodgrass’ shot-come-cross clipped the underside of the bar to give Strachan’s side a lead after nine minutes.
This lead lasted just four minutes after Alfred Effiong headed in an equaliser after poor marking from the Scots.
Scotland dictated the rest of the game, with Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher adding to a Snodgrass double, completing his hat-trick, to conclude the demolition.
Set up in a 4-2-3-1 system, similar to that of Gold medal winning Brazil at the Olympics, with Barry Bannan sitting in front of the back four distributing and dictating play, regularly looking for Oliver Burke in behind the Maltese back three.
Bannan’s varied, high-quality distribution from deep-lying positions was crucial to Scotland’s play, particularly in the second half when the game had become more stretched.
Another beneficiary of tiring Maltese legs was Matt Ritchie, the Newcastle wide man found space in between the Maltese midfield and backline, sliding passes through Pietro Ghedin’s side at will.
Ritchie’s ability to cut teams open was shown in the lead up to Snodgrass’ hat-trick goal as he slid through a ball for Fletcher who’s chip struck the bar and fell perfectly to Hull winger who calmly passed it into the net.
Another key element to Scotland’s win and something they will endeavour to use as the qualifying continues was their use of full-backs Callum Paterson and, in particular, Andrew Robertson in attacking wide positions.
Robertson’s near constant over and underlapping of Snodgrass and Ritchie gave Scotland another element in the attack. Robertson’s running will be pivotal to Scotland if they are to push England and Slovakia all the way in qualifying.
Combined with Scotland’s energy with the ball, their pressing was too much for Malta to handle, something Ghedin cited as a big reason for his side’s capitulation:
“First half, we played really well, but second half Scotland pushed a lot and, under pressure, we lost concentration. We have to work more. Scotland pressed every minute. I’m not surprised. They have the spirit to play for 90 minutes, and they played well.”
Ghedin’s assessment of Scotland’s pressing was correct, and Strachan’s men perfectly executed it.