1:20 England manager Gareth Southgate says he sticks by his decision to drop Raheem Sterling for one match after his altercation with Joe Gomez.

England may have bounced back with a thumping 6-0 win under difficult circumstances in Bulgaria but that Czech defeat delayed qualification and raised questions about whether Southgate’s team, after their runs to the semi-finals of the World Cup and Nations League, are continuing their upward trajectory.

With next summer’s showpiece climaxing with semi-finals and a final at Wembley, the rare opportunity presented by Euro 2020 cannot be missed.

As well as a convincing win and performance, Southgate will also be looking for a show of unity from his side against Montenegro.

The squad came together impressively amid the racist abuse in Sofia but Raheem Sterling’s clash with Joe Gomez, which has led to Southgate ruling out the Man City star for the Montenegro game, has caused an unwanted problem for the manager to deal with and reignited the age-old debate about club cliques in the international set-up.

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  • Hudson-Odoi: Sterling my idol, our leader

Southgate has plenty on his plate already, with next summer’s tournament fast approaching and England fixtures in which to prepare running out. There are question marks across the pitch.

At centre-back, Michael Keane has been dropped after struggling against Kosovo and Czech Republic, meaning Tyrone Mings — a debutant in Bulgaria — the returning John Stones, Gomez and Chelsea youngster Fikayo Tomori will compete for a starting spot alongside first-choice Harry Maguire. Whether Southgate goes with two or three centre-backs next summer is still up for discussion.

There is strength at full-back, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier vying for the right-back berth and Ben Chilwell just ahead of Danny Rose on the other side but in midfield it is a more complicated picture.

Harry Winks is likely to anchor in place of Declan Rice on Thursday, given his better ball-passing ability, while James Maddison, Mason Mount and fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battle for the more advanced roles with Jordan Henderson suspended and Ross Barkley out injured. But Southgate’s best combination in this integral area is far from clear.

In attack, Sterling’s effective one-game ban opens the door for Marcus Rashford to claim a starting spot — he impressed cutting in from the left in Manchester United’s win over Brighton on Sunday — but teenage sensations Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho have each made exciting cases for inclusion alongside Harry Kane. And what of Tammy Abraham and his 10 Premier League goals this season?

Despite the pressure of requiring a result, Southgate has the opportunity to experiment as, on paper, Montenegro shouldn’t cause England many problems. While they took the lead in the reverse fixture, England ran out 5-1 winners and Montenegro are now goalless in their last four qualifiers, sitting second-bottom in the group without a win to their name.

While Montenegro won’t pose the same challenges as the more elite opposition England will face in crunch moments at the Euros, the bigger picture is key — and England supporters and Southgate alike will be looking for evidence that plans for next summer are coming together.

After the highlights reels and stories of yesteryear play out, England’s current generation must begin to show they are ready to make history of their own in eight months’ time.

Sterling and Gomez: What happened?

Raheem Sterling tried to grab Joe Gomez by the neck and said «you think you’re the big man now?» during the England pair’s row at St George’s Park, Sky Sports News understands.

2:04 England manager Gareth Southgate explains why he dropped Raheem Sterling, following a bust-up with Joe Gomez

After they clashed towards the end of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester City on Sunday, emotions carried over into the England team canteen on Monday.

Here’s what happened — and how Gareth Southgate responded.

England team news

While Fabian Delph, Ross Barkley and Tom Heaton returned to their clubs earlier this week after injury ruled them out of participating in these two qualifiers, there is good news on the fitness front for Southgate, who had all 25 members of his group train on Wednesday.

Jordan Henderson is suspended and Raheem Sterling is excluded from the game against Montenegro, but other than that Southgate can select from the rest of his squad.

European Qualifiers state of play

England are on the brink of Euro 2020 qualification, needing just a point to seal their passage to next summer’s showpiece. Meanwhile, six nations have already booked their place at the European Championships.

But who is likely to join them after the final round of qualifiers?

Here’s how each group is shaping up with two matchdays remaining.

England’s surprising stats-based XI

Has Southgate selected England’s statistically best players this season? The answer is no, according to the Sky Sports Power Rankings!

From overlooked midfield creators to a young full-back shining in the Netherlands, we’ve picked out the best-performing XI according to our algorithm.

See who makes the team — and who is missing from Southgate’s camp — here.

Watch England highlights for free on Sky Sports

Watch highlights of all of England’s Euro 2020 qualifying games for free with Sky Sports — including England vs Montenegro on Thursday and Kosovo v England on Sunday.

The best bits from each game will be available on SkySports.com, the Sky Sports app and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel from 15 minutes after full-time — and you won’t need a Sky Sports subscription to tune in.

Sourse: skysports.com

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