Phil Neville has said it was “really difficult” to leave the Atlético Madrid forward Toni Duggan out of his 28-player England squad to face Germany on 27 October.
The Lionesses play Europe’s highest-ranked team in Wiesbaden in their first fixture since March and Duggan, who will be 31 by the end of the rescheduled Euros in 2022, faces a fight to keep her international career alive.
Duggan scored her last England goal during World Cup qualifying in August 2018 and struggled in France the following summer on her return from injury. She made two substitute appearances and one start at the SheBelieves Cup in March.
“Toni has been one of those players that I have picked more than any other player,” Neville said. “She’s a really, really top player. She’s probably suffered because the Spanish league has started later – they’ve only had two games. She’s just a little bit behind everybody else in terms of games played and the chances to impress.”
However, Neville also hinted that winning her place back will not be straightforward: “In wide areas where Toni plays, we’ve got some fantastic players who are all playing really well so I would say that the competition in that area is as strong as in any other area of the pitch.”
Another player omitted from Neville’s squad, for the second time, is the Euro 2017 golden boot winner Jodie Taylor. “I wouldn’t read too much into it,” Neville said of whether the 34-year-old would play for England again. “If you look at the competition for places in that centre-forward position it’s fierce. What I love about the situation at the moment is that there are so many players, the depth of our talent, the depth of the list that I’m looking at for selection means that there’s some fantastic players not actually in this squad.
“Age doesn’t come into it for me; it’s whether your performance is good enough and the performances have got to be better than those that are in the squad.”
Looking to the future, Neville has called up Manchester United’s centre-back Millie Turner and forward Ella Toone, the Manchester City defender Esme Morgan and the Chelsea winger Niamh Charles after the quartet impressed at their first camp in September and continued to shine in the Women’s Super League.
Returning to the squad are the Lyon forward Nikita Parris, who was unable to travel to St George’s Park last month because of Covid travel restrictions, and the Manchester City right-back Lucy Bronze, who has retuned from injury.
The Arsenal centre-back Lotte Wubben-Moy and the Liverpool forward Rinsola Babajide have missed out on a return following their first call-ups last month and the Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs is out through injury.
England are “at the start of a journey” of building towards the Euros and 2023 World Cup, Neville said. Germany, ranked No 2 in the world behind USA, will be the first of two tough tests before Christmas for Neville’s side, who play Norway at Bramall Lane on 1 December. Germany lost against Sweden in the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup.
“When we were building for the World Cup, they were blooding some young players,” Neville said. “So they’re ahead of us in their journey at this moment in time. But my expectation as a manager is I want us to compete, I want us to put on a performance and I expect to go for the win. That’s not going to change whoever I put out.”