Chelsea winger Raheem Sterling was again left out of the England squad today with manager Gareth Southgate opting to stick with the same group that secured qualification for Euro 2024.
Sterling was a Southgate mainstay leading into the World Cup in Qatar, where England reached the quarter-finals, but has not appeared since, prompting talk of a fall-out.
The Three Lions boss dismissed that suggestion, and said it was simply a matter of rewarding those that had propelled England to the finals in Germany next summer.
Southgate said: “The door is 100 per cent open, not just for Raheem but for other players that aren’t in this squad.
“We don’t need to know about his quality, or his personality – he has been a crucial part of why we’ve had the journey we’ve had over the past few years.
“But the team are playing really well, we had an exceptional win against Italy last time round. Who do we leave out to put him in? It’s as simple as that.”
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Sterling declared himself unavailable for two games in June to work on his fitness in what was described at the time as a mutual decision but has failed to work his way back into Southgate’s thinking since.
Southgate added: “He wasn’t available in June and the team started on a good run, we won in Italy for the first time in 60 years and we’ve stuck with that group pretty much through this qualifying campaign.
“We felt that was fair to the guys in the squad, and there is huge competition for places.
“Raheem has been looking dangerous for his club, he looks invigorated.”
Sterling’s club team-mate Cole Palmer has also missed out despite performing well following his move to Stamford Bridge from Manchester City over the summer.
Jude Bellingham, James Maddison, Callum Wilson and Bukayo Saka have been included despite recent injuries, but Southgate hinted they may not all be able to link-up with the squad over the weekend.
He added: “We could lose one of those today after a scan, we could lose one tomorrow so we don’t really know.
“You’d be amazed how complicated it is picking a squad. All the clubs are sensitive to information, and we’re trying to piece everything together.
“I can’t be certain that everyone that is in that squad will be there on Sunday night, there are varying levels of doubt, with Callum the biggest doubt.”
England host Malta on November 17 before an away game with North Macedonia three days later.