Raheem Sterling was the headline absentee as Gareth Southgate handed Eberechi Eze his first England call-up and ended Lewis Dunk’s time in the international wilderness.
Having kicked off Euro 2024 qualification with wins over Italy and Ukraine, attention turns to June’s straightforward-looking doubleheader against Malta and North Macedonia.
Sterling is the most eye-catching absentee for those games as a difficult first season since swapping Manchester City for Chelsea comes to a frustrating conclusion.
The 28-year-old has not played for England since the World Cup quarter-final exit to France – when a burglary at home disrupted his preparations – as injury ruled him out of the March camp.
“I spoke with him a week or so ago – a general catch-up,” England boss Southgate said.
“He’s not happy physically with his condition, having been carrying a hamstring problem. He really wasn’t in consideration.
“So, we didn’t get to the point of whether he should be in or out. He doesn’t think he is operating at the level he needs.”
A representative for Sterling called it a “mutual decision” that allows the player to focus on “recuperating his body in preparation for the upcoming season”.
The 28-year-old is determined to play a key role for England next term and Southgate says he can get back into the fold ahead of next year’s finals, as can omitted Tottenham defender Eric Dier.
“As we’ve shown with Tyrone (Mings) coming back (this time) and other players like Trent (Alexander-Arnold) coming back in, the door is always open when players are playing well,” Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Eric and Raheem both have physical issues really at the moment that they’re dealing with, so there’s part of that is behind that decision as well.
“But there’s another year to go before the Euros and it’s possible for everybody to get in that squad.”
Mings, Alexander-Arnold, Callum Wilson and Sam Johnstone returned to the England squad as Southgate has largely stuck with the tried and tested for the Group C games, with Crystal Palace attacking midfielder Eze the only uncapped player named in the group.
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