England squad to face Ukraine and Scotland: Is Gareth Southgate taking loyalty too far?

England manager Gareth Southgate has demonstrated trademark loyalty with his squad for the forthcoming meetings with Ukraine and Scotland - but Raheem Sterling has found there is no quick route back into his plans.

Southgate has maintained faith in Manchester United's out-of-favour defender Harry Maguire and former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, despite the latter's move to the emerging but less testing Saudi Pro League with Al-Ettifaq.

There has to be an element of gamble in the continued inclusion of club outcast Maguire and 33-year-old Henderson, while the surprise inclusion is Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah.

So what are we to make of Southgate's selection as England prepare for the Euro 2024 qualifier with Ukraine, to be played in Poland, and the meeting with Scotland at Hampden Park in the 150th anniversary heritage fixture?

How far is Southgate stretching loyalty?

Southgate's faith in the England players who have served him well is admirable, but when does he reach the point where this loyalty is misplaced?

It is certainly a debate which has growing validity when it comes to Maguire, Henderson and Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips keeping their places.

Maguire, while never particularly letting England down, can consider himself fortunate to be included given his inaction over recent months when it has been made clear in no uncertain terms that he has no serious part in Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag's plans.

Ten Hag was more than happy to let the 30-year-old leave for West Ham, approving a deal only for the move to fall down when personal terms could not be agreed.

Maguire is effectively relying on injuries to get any sort of decent game time at Old Trafford and must hope Raphael Varane's injury opens the door. Southgate must also hope opportunity knocks soon for one of his most trusted players, because the longer Maguire goes without serious action the more implausible it will be for him to take a regular place in England's plans, especially with Euro 2024 coming into sharp focus.

He only started 16 games and played a total of 1,600 minutes at club level last season. Southgate can only hope circumstances conspire to somehow give him more this season.

Maguire may have been helped by the relative lack of international appearance around him, with Manchester City's John Stones out through injury, along with Aston Villa's Tyrone Mings, but he will be ring rusty if he figures against Ukraine and Scotland.

Henderson's inclusion is also worthy of question, given he has forsaken the high-level intensity of the Premier League with Liverpool for the developing Saudi Pro League, where the style and tempo will be the polar opposite of what he would have been experiencing in England.

Is this the ideal preparation for playing at the heart of England's midfield at international level? Southgate must hope it is.

Southgate is a huge admirer of Henderson, but the former Sunderland player is surely coming towards the end of his England career. The manager has, however, resisted the temptation to move on to the younger generation.

Phillips, another key member of Southgate's squad that reached the Euro 2020 final when England lost to Italy on penalties at Wembley, has been little more than a bystander since his £45m move from Leeds United to Etihad Stadium in July 2022.

He has started only four games in that time, playing for 594 minutes, and yet clearly has enough credit in the bank for Southgate to keep him in his squad.

Southgate has made it clear a lack of options in central defence and midfield have played into his selection, but the argument will be made he is treading a fine line between loyalty and avoiding culling players who are simply not justifying international selection with performances - or lack of performances - at club level.

Sterling's surprise exclusion

Sterling has made a compelling case for an England recall with his thrilling early season form for Chelsea but Southgate has set this to one side to leave the 28-year-old out of his latest squad.

Sterling missed the qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia at the end of last season after discussions with Southgate, who revealed the player was not happy with his physical conditioning and was carrying a hamstring problem after a poor first season at Stamford Bridge.

In contrast, he has looked back to his best this season and was on target with two goals in the 3-0 win against Luton Town.

Raheem Sterling (centre) runs with the ball as Tomas Soucek (right) looks to tackle him
Sterling scored nine times in 38 appearances for Chelsea in all competitions last season

Southgate made it clear Sterling was "not particularly happy" with being left out, but the decision was shaped by the fact he has lots of options for the position behind England's main striker and captain Harry Kane.

Sterling might feel aggrieved because he has staked his claim with performances for his club whereas players such as Maguire and Phillips continue to be included despite being almost invisible at that level in recent times.

Southgate has the likes of Arsenal's Bukayo Saka, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, Manchester City duo Phil Foden and Jack Grealish, as well as Crystal Palace's exciting Eberechi Eze to call on.

It means Sterling, for all his fine form, has been squeezed out.

Big chance for new young duo

Chelsea's Levi Colwill has been earmarked for a senior debut following a series of outstanding performances as England won the European Under-21 Championship for the first time in nearly 40 years in the summer.

The 20-year-old defender, who excelled on loan at Brighton last season, has continued his progress by becoming first choice at Chelsea under new manager Mauricio Pochettino and has a real platform to force his way into the squad for next summer's Euro 2024 in Germany.

Arsenal's Nketiah is arguably the big surprise selection by Southgate, but England's manager has clearly seen something in the 24-year-old's natural eye for goal.

He faces a tough battle to force his way into contention given the riches at Southgate's disposal in that area, but this will be a real lift to confidence and offers him the opportunity to impress the England management team at close quarters.