Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling still has not done enough for an England recall as Gareth Southgate served notice he is finalising his Euro 2024 plans. Fit-again Callum Wilson replaces the injured Eddie Nketiah while John Stones drops out through injury. Despite making tentative returns to action since the last England gathering, neither Reece James or Eberechi Eze have made it into the group to play Malta and North Macedonia later this month.
Southgate said of Sterling: “The door is 100 per cent open not only for Raheem but also other players who aren’t in this squad. We don’t need to know about his quality, his personality. He is a crucial part of the journey we’ve been on.”
It means only 25 names on the squad list – one fewer than Southgate’s original call-up roster for last month. Possibly the most anxious person on the list is Aaron Ramsdale, who despite his lack of first-team football with Arsenal keeps his place ahead of more regular Premier League player Nick Pope. Otherwise it is same old, same old.
Having ridden the storm of being out of contention at Manchester United and regained a more regular place in the side, Harry Maguire clearly has possession of one of Southgate’s two centre-back berths. If fit, Stones slots in alongside him.
But with the Manchester City defender injured for this double-header against Malta and North Macedonia, it is a chance for the rest of the cohort of centre-defenders to stake a claim for a back-up spot on the plane.
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Marc Guehi is looking increasingly strong as a deputy on either side of the defence – not least because there are no new names to challenge him. Southgate has continued his policy of calling up players on the cusp of fitness to allow the England staff to run their eyes over them – and continue the fostering of the whole group harmony for the first night of every call-up at least.
It means call-ups for James Maddison and Bukayo Saka despite both picking up knocks for their clubs this week. James’ omission is something of a surprise but extra cover in the shape of midfield-listed Trent Alexander-Arnold is available.
Southgate explained: “I was hoping to call [up] Reece James. He doesn’t feel he’s quite ready and I understand that.”
On the left the continued absence of Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell leaves Kieran Trippier and Levi Colwill as two part-time full-backs to vie for the position.
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But of course no Southgate squad it seems would be complete without Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson. Both stalwarts remain part of the group despite their lack of regular elite competitive football.
Despite the calibre of the opposition, there is still impetus on England to win both games to maintain their place among the top seeds for the finals.
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