Last weekend’s game between Liverpool and Manchester City, which Jurgen Klopp’s team won 3-1 in what was an emotional and highly-strung encounter between the two sides, saw an incident near the end of the game where England team-mates Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Manchester City’s ex-Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling clash.
This is nothing unusual in an ultra-competitive encounter, especially between the two top teams in the Premier League over the last few years and title rivals, but what followed was somewhat unusual as Sterling and Gomez had a further altercation in the canteen at St George’s Park after meeting up on England duty, instigated it seems by simmering anger held by Sterling over the incident at Anfield.
The net result of this saw England manager Gareth Southgate removed Sterling from consideration for the game with Montenegro and it appears that without an appeal from Gomez not to have Sterling removed from the squad, and an intervention from Liverpool and England star Jordan Henderson, the fall out for Sterling could have been worse.
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Sterling v Gomez Clash in Context
The fallout began in the clash at Anfield on Sunday when Manchester City felt that they had been denied a penalty, when the ball ricocheted of Bernardo Silva’s hand onto Trent Alexander-Arnold’s hand, in the Liverpool penalty box. Liverpool broke from the incident and Fabinho put the Reds in front with a fine strike from 20 yards.
Denied that penalty (and ruling out Liverpool’s opener) City went further behind when Mo Salah headed home Andy Robertson’s cross and then Sadio Mane’s header put Liverpool 3-0 up. Bernardo Silva pulled one back for City late on and just after the goal, Sterling and Gomez clashed with the City man squaring up to the Liverpool defender after a foul, and Gomez shoving the player away.
Neither were booked in the incident, but it seems Sterling could not let things lie when Gomez turned up at the canteen in St. George’s Park for England duty. After going over to shake hands with Sterling, it seems Sterling grabbed the Liverpool man in a head lock and asked him if he was “the big man’ now. Gomez was taken aback, and the incident was split up by fellow England players.
Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson rang both players to resolve the issue and Gomez pleaded with England boss Gareth Southgate not to kick Sterling out of the squad. Sterling however will not be considered for the team for the game with Montenegro and was forced to apologise to Gomez and his teammates for the fracas.
How big a miss will Sterling be?
There is no doubt that in the past 12 months, Raheem Sterling has blossomed in an England shirt. He has scored eight goals in the qualifying campaign, including two last time out against Bulgaria. He has developed into a key player for both his club Manchester City and England and is rated by many as one of the best wide players in world football.
In terms of his sheer talent, England will miss Sterling down the flanks against Montenegro, but you can’t help feeling that the self-imposed punishment on Sterling would have been harder for England to cope with against better opponents.
England do have plenty of players capable of covering for Sterling in his absence with the likes of Marcus Rashford or Jadon Sancho more than capable of playing wide right and against the likes of Montenegro, England should find Sterling’s absence more easy to deal with than if they were facing a true giant of European football.
England v Montenegro Preview
With Sterling ruled out, Gareth Southgate will need to make a change or two from the team that won handsomely in difficult circumstances in Bulgaria. After an impressive debut, I think Tyrone Mings will keep his place in defence alongside Harry Maguire and I think Trent Alexander-Arnold has probably done enough to earn a spot in the team ahead of Kieran Trippier and I’d expect Danny Rose to continue at left back.
With Jordan Henderson suspended, I think England’s midfield could be very young with Declan Rice anchoring alongside Harry Winks and either Mason Mount or James Maddison handed the more advanced role.
Harry Kane will start as the focal point of the attack and I can see Marcis Rashford and Jadon Sancho being given the nod alongside him.
Probable England team – (4-3-3) – Pickford, Alexander-Arnold, Rose, Maguire, Mings, Rice, Mount, Winks, Rashford, Sancho, Kane.
Montenegro have a smattering of talented players including Levante midfielder Nikola Vucevic and Stefan Savic of Atletico Madrid, but the latter is absent for this game with injury as is their most talented player Stevan Jovetic, formerly of Manchester City and now of Monaco.
Probable Montenegro Team – (4-5-1) – Petkovic, Simic, Kopitovic, Sofranac, Radunovic, Vukcevic, Jovovic, Vesovic, Jankovic, Kojasevic, Beciraj.
Even without Raheem Sterling, this should be a comfortable win for England. After a 5-1 win away from home against these opponents, the 3 Lions should earn a strong victory here and that will ensure that they qualify for the Euro 2020 finals next summer.