Southgate turns to Sterling as England bid to seal World Cup spot
In-form Harry Kane will captain the side against Slovenia at Wembley
Sterling endured a difficult time with the England team last month and suffered the ignominy of being substituted at half-time in Malta with the game goalless and frustration mounting among the travelling support.
Sterling played only the last seven minutes of the subsequent win over Slovakia but though it is almost two years since he scored for his country, he will earn his 35th cap at the age of 22.
“We have some very exciting talent who want to go and express themselves, and we want to give them the framework to do that,” Gareth Southgate said. “Raheem comes into that bracket. He is a tough lad. That’s one of the attributes I really like about him. He bounces back from disappointments and he goes again.
“I can see he is ready for tomorrow and looking forward to it. He is in a good moment with his club, he is working with a good coach there and we have huge belief in him as well.
“We want the crowd to be excited with what they’re watching, and he’s a player who can do that: he can beat people; his goalscoring record is improving, which is important for him, and he works hard for the team, chasing back and tackling.
“He’s not just an old-fashioned winger. He’s not old at all, but he’s at a moment where, like a lot of these guys, the next few years are very important to establish themselves as top players. He recognises that.”
With Dele Alli suspended for the game Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane – the captain – will start for the first time together in an England line-up having been on the pitch for barely a minute together up to now.
Kane will lead the side out at Wembley for a match that could end with confirmation of a place at next year’s World Cup, but England manager Southgate has been reluctant to anoint a permanent successor to the retired Wayne Rooney.
Former England boss Roy Hodgson has suggested leadership might detract from the Tottenham striker’s main job – scoring goals and winning matches – but Kane, who netted 13 times in his last eight matches, has no such concerns.
“Having an armband on your arm doesn’t make any difference to how you play and if you score goals or not,” he said.
“It makes me very proud. Growing up as a kid you dream about playing for your country and being captain as well. Walking out at Wembley will be an amazing thing for me, personally. I’ll just go out there and do my best for the team, try and score goals and win the match.
“We have plenty of leaders in the team. Plenty of us will speak up and try to help each other on the pitch, be there for each other when things are tough.”
England need one win from their two remaining matches to seal top spot in Group F and automatic qualification. Southgate’s men travel to Lithuania for their final qualifier on Sunday.