By Matt Law, Football News Correspondent
Raheem Sterling has been left out of the England squad for the European Championship qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia following a heart-to-heart with manager Gareth Southgate.
And that has opened up a space for Crystal Palace attacking midfielder Eberechi Eze to win his first England call-up, while Newcastle United striker Callum Wilson has also earned a recall.
Telegraph Sport reported on Tuesday that Sterling was set to be given the summer off to get over a turbulent first season at Chelsea and Southgate has allowed the forward to sit out the next two games in June.
There are call-ups for Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings and Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, but Sterling will focus on clearing his mind and fully getting over his injury problems this summer.
A statement from Sterling’s representatives said: “Following a private conversation between coach and player, a mutual decision has been made for Raheem Sterling to sit out the upcoming internationals, focusing instead on recuperating his body in preparation for the upcoming season.”
Live reaction continues below
Newcastle celebrate Wilson’s recall
Palace praises its Lions
Here’s the squad again – this time in good, old-fashioned black and white
Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone, Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale.
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lewis Dunk, Marc Guehi, Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker.
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Eberechi Eze, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, James Maddison, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice.
Forwards: Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Callum Wilson.
Southgate on the thought behind his selections
“It (the short time between the season’s end and the qualifiers) hasn’t influenced selections at all. It is a difficult season for clubs, the players and us. We are always mindful of the welfare of the players and we have to allow players time to recuperate but not to de-condition physically. Like every other country we have important qualification matches on our way to Germany. We have picked a strong squad and the players always enjoy coming here. I think we will manage it as well as we can.”
Southgate on Sterling
“I spoke with him a week or so ago. A general catch-up. He is not happy with his condition physically, carrying a hamstring problem. He wasn’t really in consideration. He doesn’t think he is operating at the level he needs.”
Southgate on Ivan Toney
“I’ve have spoken with him – I am not sure if that’s allowed, if not they can ban me and not add to his…I think he recognised and accepted the punishment….he still has a chance to make the squad [for the Euros next summer]. [The ban] isn’t ideal, we don’t know how he’ll adapt, I like his personality and belief. everything is still possible for him.”
On Trent Alexander-Arnold
“He’s a super footballer and playing a slightly different role and invigorated him in past few months. Interesting for us, no question and have talked with him about it and looing forward to working with him and see how that all plays out.”
Here are the six changes from the previous squad
Those in the squad to face Ukraine and Italy but NOT in this 26-man gathering are Nick Pope, Ben Chilwell, Eric Dier, Reece James, Mason Mount and Ivan Toney.
Southgate on Eze’s call up
“He has finished the season strongly , an play in a couple of positions in that attacking line – he’s goal threat and can take people out of the game with dribbling skills. We’re looking forward to seeing him at close quarters.”
More from Matt Law on the squad and Sterling’s omission
Sterling’s first season at Chelsea has been disrupted by unprecedented injury problems, several changes of manager and the incident at his home that resulted in him flying back from the World Cup, and Southgate has taken that into consideration in allowing him to take a longer break.
Like the rest of Chelsea’s squad, Sterling is keen to make sure he can return to pre-season training in the best possible condition to try to impress new head coach Mauricio Pochettino.
Sterling missed England’s last two games against Italy and Ukraine through injury, with Southgate insisting he would have picked the 28-year-old had he been available.
Southgate has not dumped Sterling this time around and the former Manchester City star has always been clear of his drive and determination to give his best for his country when asked to do so.
Sterling and England manager Southgate are aware that Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson was given last summer off, missing the Nations League games against Hungary, Italy and Germany, to rest at the end of an exhausting season and returned to play a pivotal role in the World Cup in Qatar.
Here’s the full squad
The last time England played
Was memorable for a number of reasons. Harry Kane breaking the all-time scoring record and the side’s brilliant performance against the Italians in Naples.
READ: England have one foot in Euro 2024 after first win in Italy for 62 years
Another player who has been in fine form is…
…Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze. The attacker has scored 10 goals and made three assists this season and Southgate may well conclude that matches against Malta and North Macedonia are perfect opportunities for him to make his debut.
Eze is playing the best football of his career and is enjoying life: “Loads, loads. I feel like I’ve got the freedom to play, to do my thing and I’m just happy to be playing and enjoying my football. I just feel like I’ve been given the freedom. I found it difficult at times, as a team we were going through a tough period so that’s natural, but since the gaffer has come in I feel like we have worked well together,” the Palace player said.
Will Raheem Sterling be named in the 26?
It hasn’t been the best season for the Chelsea player — hampered by injury and being part of the west Londoners’ struggling season which can be summed up by the phrase ‘mid-table mediocrity’.
Here Matt Law looks at the conundrum facing Southgate and one of his favourite, most-trusted players.
READ: Raheem Sterling may be rested by England following turbulent time at Chelsea
Will Callum be called up?
The Newcastle striker has been in fine form recently and his manager Eddie Howe certainly thinks Wilson’s form is deserving of England recognition.
“He’s somebody that the squad needs to be positive because he’s such a big personality within it.”
He hasn’t featured for England since he was part of the World Cup squad in Qatar.
Questions for Gareth Southgate to ponder
Two matches in and two wins — at home to Ukraine and the impressive victory against Italy in Naples — and it is fair to say England’s attempt to qualify for next summer’s European Championships is going rather well. They are the two ‘big’ rivals for Gareth Southgate’s side making it to Germany in 12 months’ time and both have been dispatched with a mixture of ease and and elan.
So an away tie in Malta and a home match against North Macedonia should be easy pickings then? Well, yes and no.
England have not beaten North Macedonia, who famously beat Germany and Italy in World Cup qualifying, at home in two previous games and Southgate will be only too aware of the pitfalls of over-confidence as he names his squad for the two qualifiers.
As reported by our very own Matt Law today, Raheem Sterling could be the big-name omission from the squad. The Chelsea player has, by his own admission, endured a troubled first season at Stamford Bridge describing the past 12 months as “one of the lowest points of my career”. Should he not be named in the squad it will be down to giving him some much-needed rest rather than any judgement on him as a player. Southgate and Sterling have a close relationship and are likely to have discussed whether or not he should be part of the squad with a decision agreed upon mutually.
Among other considerations for the England manager to ponder is who will replace Ivan Toney whose eight-month ban for betting offences was confirmed this month. Callum Wilson is the favourite having scored 11 goals since he was overlooked for the wins against Italy and Ukraine in March.
His Newcastle coach Eddie Howe certainly thinks he deserves a chance.
“It’s one for Gareth, but he is certainly doing the right things, scoring goals. That is always going to get you the headlines. He is certainly in great form. I don’t know if it is his best,” Howes said.
“But I think he is very focused at the moment and he knows he has to be. I think the biggest compliment I can pay him is that, whatever situation he’s been in, he’s still been himself, laughing, smiling, joking.
“He is a really positive character. He’s somebody that the squad needs to be positive because he’s such a big personality within it.”
Stay here to find out whether Wilson makes the cut and who else Southgate will put his trust in to get maximum points against Malta and North Macedonia.
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