Raheem Sterling is not undroppable for England, but Gareth Southgate will continue to select him for the Three Lions even if he’s not playing regularly for Manchester City.
Sterling has been on the fringes for City for the majority of 2021 as Phil Foden has been in fine form on the left wing, while Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus have impressed on the right.
This season, Sterling has got most of his chances through the middle, although he has been overlooked for the bigger games and is only getting starts in the lower-profile fixtures under Pep Guardiola.
Despite his frustrations at club level — where he’s admitted he would be open to leaving in order to play regularly — Sterling is a first-choice starter for England and was their biggest attacking threat at Euro 2020 in the summer off the left flank.
And England boss Southgate has admitted that players like Sterling will make him reconsider his well-publicised stance that players not featuring regularly for their clubs won’t be selected for international duty — as long as their record for England justifies it.
Manchester City have started their campaign strongly, as confirmed by a dominant derby victory over Manchester United.
Make sure you don’t miss a single City story this season by signing up to get email updates direct to your inbox. It’s free and there’s no spam.
Southgate said: “We touched on this a little bit when I named the squad and I know I do always say there is a preference for us that players are playing regularly because they’re match-sharp, they’re ready, but if their physical condition is good and they’re playing enough football, then also, we’ve got to look at who we feel our best players are.
“That doesn’t mean they’re undroppable, and I think any player in the squad has been in or out at some time, Raheem included. And that doesn’t mean if we’re not playing well, we won’t take players off, because we’ve also done that, but there’s a balance with your selection.
“OK, who’s in form, but over how long a period is that, have they produced in the big matches yet, do we know quite yet what they can do? And Raheem has proved time and time again with us how important he’s been, and that his level is really high.
“He’s at a club with an incredible roster of players that it’s complicated at times to get games, but he’ll work his way into the team, I’m sure.”
Sterling is England’s most-capped player of the current squad with 71, scoring 18 goals and assisting 23 times. His current struggles for City could be classed as the most difficult period of his career to date, but Southgate insists the winger is hungry and motivated in training and isn’t showing signs of frustration.
He continued: “I think fortunately because of the Champions League games and the League Cup games, he’s physically sharp enough and had enough minutes to retain his fitness, so I sense that in the summer we had a similar situation.
“He hadn’t played so much towards the end of the season, but did play the [Champions League] final and he was hungry and sharp and ready to go and that’s how I’ve seen him this week.
“I know he enjoys his football with us, we’ve benefited massively from all of his attacking play, but of course his goals especially. I’ve not sensed a player that is low or unenergised. I’ve seen absolutely the opposite.