Gareth Southgate has admitted his loyalty to Harry Maguire will be difficult to maintain if the England defender continues to remain on the sidelines at Manchester United. England’s manager, who has omitted Raheem Sterling for next month’s Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia, described Maguire’s situation as “concerningâ€. The defender has effectively been relegated to fifth-choice centre-back at United this season and Southgate, who also challenged the terms of Ivan Toney’s eight-month ban for a breach of the Football Association’s betting rules, made it sound as if the 30-year-old’s place could depend on him moving this summer. Southgate has repeatedly stood by Maguire, picking the defender even when he has been struggling at club level. Yet there is growing competition in defence, with Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings and Brighton’s Lewis Dunk handed recalls after impressive seasons, and there was a shift in tone from Southgate as he discussed Maguire on Wednesday and acknowledged that the defender has started only three times for United since the March international break. “Inevitably it’s not a situation that can continue for ever,†Southgate said. “It’s like Kalvin Phillips. They are important players for us and with Kalvin we haven’t got many players who can play as that single pivot. Of course the longer that situation goes on the more concerning it is and we’ve got, in Marc Guéhi, Lewis Dunk, Tyrone Mings, players who are playing well without the same experiences of club European football or international football. But we’ve got to keep searching for competition in that area of the pitch.†Southgate, who rewarded Eberechi Eze’s fine form for Crystal Palace by handing the midfielder his first call-up, also admitted it would not be ideal if his No 1 goalkeeper, Everton’s Jordan Pickford, is playing in the Championship next year. Competition for Pickford in this squad comes from Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale and Palace’s Sam Johnstone, who was selected over Newcastle’s Nick Pope. The most eye-catching omission from the 25-man squad was Sterling. The Chelsea winger has had issues with his form and fitness this season and he was left out after talks with Southgate. It was felt that Sterling would benefit from a rest. Southgate, who has several options in attacking midfield, insisted that Sterling is not in the right physical condition to play. The former Manchester City winger has missed one game for Chelsea since sitting out England’s qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine in March with a hamstring injury. There will inevitably be questions over whether Sterling, who lost his place in England’s starting XI during the World Cup, is part of Southgate’s long-term plans. “I would always back him to respond strongly and to have the resilience to prove himself,†Southgate said. There were some strong words from Southgate on Toney’s situation. He insisted the striker could go to the Euros, even though his ban ends five months before the tournament begins, and questioned why he is not allowed to train with Brentford. Toney is currently injured and he must train alone until September. Southgate, who had no issues with the length of the ban, suggested that could hurt his rehabilitation. “The ban is the ban,†he said. “I think he accepted the punishment. What bothers me is we’ve got to look after people. He’s injured at the moment – what does he do about getting fit? How do we give him some structure over the next few months that he can develop himself or be a better person at the end of it? “I don’t like the idea that we just leave somebody so they are not allowed to be part of the football community. I don’t think that’s how the best rehabilitation programmes would work. But he knows that we picked him because we felt until there was a charge, he should be allowed to play. When he comes back, if he plays well then we’ll pick him.†Callum Wilson benefited from Toney’s omission with the Newcastle striker preferred to Villa’s Ollie Watkins. The absence of Chelsea’s Mason Mount has opened up a spot in midfield for Eze, who is also eligible for Nigeria. The 24-year-old was in England’s provisional squad for Euro 2020, only to suffer a serious achilles injury, and has scored six goals in his past eight appearances for Palace. Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, Sam Johnstone. Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lewis Dunk, Marc Guéhi, Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker. Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Eberechi Eze, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, James Maddison, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice. Forwards: Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Callum Wilson. There will be opportunities for Southgate to experiment when England travel to Malta on 16 June and host North Macedonia at Old Trafford three days later. It will be fascinating to see how he uses Trent Alexander-Arnold after bringing the Liverpool right-back back into the squad. Southgate has spoken to Alexander-Arnold, who has benefited from the absence of Chelsea’s Reece James with injury, about his new role flitting between right-back and midfield for Liverpool. “All things are possible,†Southgate said. “It was good to chat to him about what he is doing. I have a really good relationship with him and we talk a lot about his game. I’ve always recognised his qualities. As to what his best position is, who knows moving forward? We shouldn’t be sitting here saying he is a midfielder now. It could be really exciting but let’s see.†Southgate did not use Ben Chilwell’s injury to bring in cover for Luke Shaw at left-back, with Brentford’s Rico Henry overlooked. There was no room for Tottenham’s Eric Dier or Milan’s Fikayo Tomori in central defence. Southgate selected Dunk, whose only previous cap came five years ago, and recalled Mings after dropping the Villa captain last year.