Gareth Southgate admits it is the right time for Joe Gomez to go home and “clear his head” after insisting the Liverpool defender had suffered an injury to rule him out of England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Kosovo.
The 22-year-old was jeered by home fans as he came off the bench in Thursday’s 7-0 win over Montenegro at Wembley after being involved in an altercation with Raheem Sterling.
Sterling left Gomez with a scratch on his face following a fracas at St George’s Park on Monday in the aftermath of Liverpool’s victory over Premier League title rivals Manchester City the previous day.
The result of the incident saw Sterling sidelined against Montenegro as punishment but it was Gomez who was given a mixed reception – with Southgate insisting in the aftermath that no England player should be booed by their own fans.
Eyebrows were raised on Saturday morning when it was announced Gomez had withdrawn from the squad ahead of the trip to Pristina with a slight knee problem.
Southgate clarified the situation at his pre-match press conference where he also conceded being taken out of the limelight could benefit Gomez given the week he has had.
“You couldn’t make it up really if you tried,” Southgate replied when asked about Gomez’s injury.
“I think now is a good moment for him just to go home for a couple of days, clear his head.
“He’s absolutely fine. He took a clash of knees yesterday. We scanned it just to be certain and I think he’ll be fine in a couple of days, but he wasn’t able to train today.
“He was in a much better place very quickly. We actually ended up having a chuckle this morning at the ridiculousness of him having to go home in the way he has.
“So, I think for him it’s been a difficult week, as you say, but one that will make him stronger and one that he’s dealt with really well.”
Sterling, meanwhile, will be back in the Three Lions side in Pristina – where the locals have made a concerted effort to welcome England’s black players to Kosovo after they suffered racial abuse last time out in Bulgaria.
While Sterling will be welcomed with open arms by the home fans, Southgate was asked how strange it would be if England supporters opt to jeer the Manchester City forward in the same way the did Gomez three days earlier.
“That would be ironic, yes,” he said.
“That wouldn’t be the most ludicrous part of this week but that would be ironic.”
Kosovo head coach Bernard Challandes had earlier joked his side may have to break Sterling’s leg to stop him having the same impact he did in the 5-3 victory over his team at St Mary’s earlier in the year.
Southgate hailed Sterling’s performance as “incredible” but said he has a wealth of attacking players to choose from as proved by the fact England have outscored every other team throughout Euro 2020 qualification.
“I think Raheem in Southampton, his performance was incredible, so I am sure that will be at the forefront of the minds of their manager,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of good attacking players, that’s the beauty of this team. It’s difficult for defences to focus on one person to try and stop them because three, four other players can step forward and score goals, create goals.
“The movements are good, and then the individual ability is good. So, I think we’re quite difficult at the moment in those attacking areas of the pitch in particular.”
Sterling is expected to be recalled but Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson returned to the club with Gomez due to a virus, while James Maddison is a doubt with a calf problem.
Southgate said last week he would not be surprised if Sterling had the “hump” with him over his decision to axe him from the Montenegro game.
But as he prepares to welcome the 24-year-old back into his team he tipped the forward to be a hit at Euro 2020.
“One hundred per cent,” he replied when asked if Sterling was essential to England.
“He’s one of the best players in Europe. I’m delighted for him tonight because he now knows that he’s going to get the chance to play in a European Championship where he can be one of the star players.
“They (the players) are so tight. We’ve seen Raheem’s Twitter posts regarding Joe and I had a long chat with Raheem. He’s looking forward to Sunday’s game.
“So, if anything, I think it will just strengthen the bond of the players.
“That’s the team, they’re going through lots of different experiences with Bulgaria and with Montenegro that are only bringing them closer together as a group.”