Gareth Southgate has brought in Newcastle’s Callum Wilson and the fit-again Bukayo Saka to his squad for England’s final two Euro 2024 qualifiers, but Raheem Sterling has again been omitted from the 25-man group.
England play Malta on Friday 17 November before travelling to North Macedonia for their final game of the qualification stage four days later.
Sterling’s chances of making the cut for the tournament in Germany next summer are now hanging by a thread. The 28-year-old has not been part of an England squad since the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with his last appearance coming as a substitute in the quarter-final defeat by France.
Sterling has endured mixed form this year within a struggling Chelsea side, and Southgate appeared frustrated by the player’s withdrawal from the squad back in March over fitness issues, but insists the door is “100 per cent open” and pointed to the competition Sterling faces.
England’s pool of wide forwards is as deep as it has ever been in Southgate’s reign, and Sterling faces competition from Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford and Saka, who missed the last camp through injury. West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen keeps his place in the squad and is pushing for a Euros spot, while Anthony Gordon is also knocking on the door with his performances for Newcastle.
“The door is 100 per cent open not only for Raheem but for other players not in the squad,” Southgate said. “We don’t need to know about his quality, his personality. He is a crucial part of why we’ve had the journey we’ve had over the last few years. I can only repeat what I have said in the meetings, we’re playing exceptionally well and who can I leave out?”
Centre-back is a less competitive area of the squad, and with Stones now potentially facing several weeks on the sidelines, there will be further opportunities for Marc Guehi, Fikayo Tomori and Lewis Dunk.
“I am really disappointed for John,” Southgate admitted. “The quality of his play is outstanding. He’s having a difficult time injury-wise at the moment, but it gives others an opportunity and we do need to know a little bit more about other players in that area of the pitch.”
Chelsea captain Reece James has returned to his club team after injury, but didn’t feel well enough to join up with the national team. There remain minor injury doubts over James Maddison (ankle), Jude Bellingham (shoulder), Saka (ankle) and Wilson (hamstring).
Southgate acknowledged: “You would be amazed at how complicated it is picking a squad because all clubs are sensitive to information. I couldn’t be certain that everyone in that squad will be there on Sunday night and Callum Wilson is the biggest doubt, but equally I am pretty confident the others can get through.”
England are top of qualifying Group C, having won five and drawn one of their six games so far, but they are only three points clear of Ukraine and still have work to do to secure first place and a top seeding in December’s Euro 2024 group stage draw.
This is Southgate’s penultimate squad before naming his 23 players for the tournament. There will be two more friendly games in March before the England squad is announced next May. Euro 2024 begins on 14 June.
England squad for Malta and North Macedonia fixtures
Defenders: Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Fikayi Tomori (AC Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City).
Forwards: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), James Maddison (Tottenham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United).