Follow Gareth Southgate's England squad announcement on Thursday at 2pm on the Sky Sports website and app; Raheem Sterling has not been in the last four camps - should he be overlooked again is there a way back? Or would his hopes of playing at Euro 2024 be over?
Thursday 9 November 2023 14:00, UK
Raheem Sterling has been Gareth Southgate's go-to man. Mr Reliable. One of the first names on the team sheet, never mind the squad list.
That certainly was the case up until the Qatar World Cup. Since then, Sterling has been left in the wilderness. He's not featured in any of the four subsequent England squads.
Southgate has shown his ruthless side in the past, expediting the international retirements of Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart. But it would be surprising if he has now decided to do the same with Sterling - a player who has been crucial to the manager's mission since day one.
Since Southgate became England boss in 2016 until last December, only Harry Kane has been used more often than Sterling. The Chelsea winger won 55 caps in those six years - eight fewer than Kane, but two more than each of Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and John Stones.
So, why the sudden change of heart? And is there a route back into the England fold for Sterling before next summer's Euros in Germany?
Having been left out of the last four, this is one of only two England camps before Southgate has to name his 23-man squad for the Euros. If Sterling is left out this time, you have to think his chances of making the Euros are slim.
England manager Gareth Southgate will be revealing his squad on Thursday at 2pm.
The Three Lions, who have already qualified for Euro 2024, play Malta on November 17 and North Macedonia on November 20 in their final Group C games.
Follow the announcement live on the Sky Sports website and app.
It was the Chelsea winger who opted out of the squad in June, because he did not feel fully fit. He's been overlooked by England ever since.
I asked Southgate about Sterling's international future directly in September. The England boss neatly side-stepped the crux of the question, saying he had spoken to the player. Sterling was not happy with the decision to leave him out, but he respected it.
Southgate went on to say he did not want to change the attacking players he'd selected in June, with so few Premier League matches having been played in between.
But Sterling was not included in the October squad, either. Despite regular appearances (four) for Chelsea in that month. And a goal and an assist.
Sterling's omission has been all the more marked when you consider Southgate's loyalty to three other England mainstays - Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips. All three have been repeatedly selected for their country, despite their lack of game-time for their clubs (or in Henderson's case, his switch to the questionable quality of the Saudi Pro League).
Both Sterling and Southgate have rubbished any suggestion their relationship has been strained since the Chelsea player left the World Cup camp in Qatar after a break-in at the family's Surrey home.
But it's clear that was the turning point in Sterling's England involvement.
He returned to Al Wakrah the day before the huge quarter-final against France. Sterling had missed the last-16 tie against Senegal, and four vital training sessions. Inevitably, he was left on the bench for the quarter-final - only coming on for the last 10 minutes when England were chasing an equaliser.
England were knocked out. Sterling has not played for England since.
A wider question would be which other winger would have to make way for Sterling to return? James Maddison looks like his ankle knock against Chelsea on Monday night is not too serious, so he is likely to keep his England place. As are Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish.
So would Jarrod Bowen make way for a Sterling return? That would be a harsh decision for a man who is in fine form, having just broken the record for scoring in six consecutive away games at the start of a Premier League season.
Southgate's decision on Thursday could be crucial in deciding whether Sterling will play any part in next summer's Euros.
Southgate will tell his England regulars he expects them to answer their country's call, and make themselves available for the Euro qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia - even though qualification for next summer's tournament is already guaranteed.
England need six points from these two matches to guarantee they will be in Pot 1 in next month's draw in Hamburg, though four points could be sufficient, depending on results elsewhere.
Because hosts Germany are guaranteed to be one of the six top seeds, only five other spots remain, with those allocated by most points won in qualifying, rather than simply finishing top of your qualifying group.
As a result, Southgate will not accept any of his senior players withdrawing with minor knocks - especially as this is one of only two England training camps before he has to name his Euros squad.
There are, however, a host of injury concerns.
Fitness depending, do not expect many changes compared with the squad that was named last month. Those changes that are made, are likely to be injury-influenced (either with unfit players missing out, or newly-fit players returning).
Southgate will pick his strongest possible squad, and there are unlikely to be any new call-ups. While Anthony Gordon's excellent form for Newcastle has pushed him into contention, he is only likely to get his opportunity if James Maddison's ankle knock is more serious than first thought, and he is forced to bail out.
England's medical team are in regular contact with their counter parts at Real Madrid, as Jude Bellingham's recovery from a shoulder injury is monitored. He was an unused substitute in the Champions League victory over Braga on Wednesday, but is likely to be included on Southgate's list.
Likewise Bukayo Saka, who contributed a goal and an assist while being targeted repeatedly by the Sevilla defence on Wednesday night. He limped off on 85 minutes with a twisted ankle, and will be assessed before Southgate makes his decision.
His Arsenal team-mate, Eddie Nketiah, missed Wednesday's Champions League group game because of an ankle knock picked up in the weekend defeat to Newcastle. His involvement with England this time is a real doubt.
Newcastle's injury crisis could cause Southgate some more problems, with Callum Wilson nursing a tight hamstring. Eddie Howe has nine players missing with injury, and so there are doubts he will be happy to allow a partially-fit Wilson to answer his country's call.
Whatever the decision over Wilson, it is unlikely that Ollie Watkins would lose his place, such has been his form for club and country. He's scored six goals in his last eight games - one of those being the winner for England in the friendly against Australia last month.
Nick Pope might struggle to force his way back into the goalkeeping ranks. If he does so, it is most likely to be at the expense of Aaron Ramsdale, who has been lacking game-time at Arsenal.
In defence, John Stones is one who is almost certain to be absent out because of injury, but Southgate may feel he has enough cover in central defence anyway, having selected six centre backs in his last over-sized squad of 26.
It will be interesting to see whether Reece James wins his England place back at the first opportunity, after he made his first Premier League start since mid-August, against Spurs on Monday. If Southgate's scouts think James will play again for Chelsea at the weekend, he is likely to be recalled.
So, this squad is likely to be built around the tried and trusted, as Southgate accelerates his planning for what he hopes will be a serious challenge for the trophy in Germany next summer.