Gareth Southgate has dropped Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard from the England squad due to their lack of form and game time as questions also continued about Mason Greenwood’s ongoing omission.
The end of a mammoth international year is in sight, as is World Cup qualification for the European Championship runners-up.
England boast a three-point cushion at the top of Group I ahead of next Friday’s Wembley clash with Albania, before travelling to San Marino for their final qualifier – the 19th fixture of 2021.
Southgate named a 25-man squad for the World Cup qualifiers and again leant heavily on the group that reached the Euros final, with Marcus Rashford back for the first time since that game.
The 24-year-old has looked bright since returning from shoulder surgery, with the absence of Manchester United teammates Sancho and Lingard causing more of a stir.
“With Jesse and Jadon, I mean they just aren’t playing a lot of football compared to the other players in their positions,” Southgate said.
“I know people say I’m inconsistent, but I don’t think I am. If you’re playing regularly for your club, you’ve got a much better chance of us assessing your level compared to the rest of the group.
“With these two lads, they’ve got great competition for places in the positions they play. Jesse has had 10-15 minutes. I don’t know what his form is, what his fitness is, really, to be able to assess him against the rest of the group.
“Both of those boys when I spoke with them totally understood that. They get it. They know that at the moment they’ve got to get playing for their club and playing well and then England is a bonus on the top.
“But they’re both players that have done well for us and I’m sure they’ll be back with us.”
Sancho and Lingard had been England regulars this year, whereas Greenwood has yet to add to his debut cap against Iceland in September 2020 – a camp he was sent home from.
An injury saw him withdraw from the preliminary Euro 2020 squad and, like the previous two international meet-ups, the 20-year-old was left out with his long-term progress in mind.
“We haven’t discussed it this month,” Southgate said. “I met with him in September and had a very good discussion and totally understand where he is.
“I said last month with young players their pathways are different, the load on them is different.
“He’s at a massive football club with a lot of expectation and we don’t want to move too quickly.”
Harry Maguire, Reece James, Kalvin Phillips and Trent Alexander-Arnold return to the squad after injury, with the latter’s involvement seeing Kieran Trippier drop out.