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Raheem Sterling has been omitted from the England squad while Eddie Nketiah was handed a first senior call-up by Gareth Southgate for the games against Ukraine and Scotland.
Sterling, who missed the summer internationals when he said he did not feel in the right condition to play, was a candidate for a recall after starting the season in fine form for Chelsea but Southgate preferred Eberechi Eze of Crystal Palace. Southgate said it was a tough phone call and Sterling was left annoyed to be omitted, revealing: “It was a difficult call and Raheem is not particularly happy about it.”
The England manager, who also chose Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and James Maddison ahead of Sterling, explained that he wanted to stick with the players he used for the June wins over Malta and North Macedonia.
“To bring Raheem back in we have to leave someone else out and on the basis of three games [of the league season] I don’t think anyone deserves to be left out,” he added. “It is really good to see Raheem start the season so well and he looks fit and hungry but in those attacking positions behind the No.9 we have a lot of competition.”
Arsenal striker Nketiah, who has scored 16 goals for England’s Under-21 team, was selected ahead of Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins as the third specialist striker behind Harry Kane and Callum Wilson. “We want to have a look at him,” Southgate said. “He is a young player with a lot of pedigree, a really good finisher and the record goalscorer in the Under-21s.”
The manager also kept faith with Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips, who have played no first-team football for Manchester United and Manchester City respectively, with defensive injuries a reason why he picked the former.
Southgate said: “With Harry Maguire we have lost a lot of experience in terms of caps at centre halves, we are giving some less experienced players a chance to come into the squad but Tyrone [Mings] is out for most of the season, John Stones is out of this camp, Eric Dier is not in Tottenham’s squad, Conor Coady is in the Championship now so there is a space there. With Harry and Kalvin Phillips, it is not ideal they are not playing football. Declan Rice is the only English player to start this weekend as a single pivot and Kalvin is the next best option.”
Jordan Henderson, who has moved to Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia, retained his place in the squad with Southgate saying his international future could depend on the standard of the Pro-League.
“The key as we move forward is the physical intensity of the league,” said Southgate. “Because of the heat as well, whether that will allow him to perform at the level we need; that is a huge consideration.”
In a defence without the injured Stones, Mings and Luke Shaw, there were call-ups for Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guehi, Lewis Dunk and the uncapped Levi Colwill.
“He is doing really well,” Southgate said of Colwill. “He is progressing. We really liked him at the end of last season with Brighton. He had a really good tournament with the Under-21s so he showed under pressure he could cope. He has started well with Chelsea in a slightly different position.”
Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Al-Ettifaq), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (Arsenal), Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace)
Forwards: Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), James Maddison (Tottenham Hotspur), Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United)