England manager Gareth Southgate has addressed the surprise over Jack Grealish's omission from the latest Three Lions squad, citing competition for places as the only reason for the Villa captain being left out.
24-year-old Grealish has yet to make an appearance for England's senior team despite declaring for the Three Lions in 2015, having previously represented Ireland at various youth levels.
Villa's talisman scored eight times in 36 appearances in 2019/20 as his club narrowly avoided relegation, and has been linked with a big-money move to Manchester United. However, his form has not been enough to earn a place in Southgate's latest squad to face Iceland and Denmark in the Nations League next month.
Southgate's squad does include a number of players who could be set to make their debuts, including Manchester United duo Mason Greenwood and Dean Henderson, Manchester City's Phil Foden and Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips - who has yet to make a Premier League appearance.
Grealish being left out was perhaps the biggest talking point of the latest squad, while it was reported in the Mirror that the player himself had 'liked' a post on Twitter favourably comparing his own stats to those of Phillips.
Southgate, however, has cited the fierce competition for places in attack as the reason why Grealish is yet to win his first England cap.
Southgate said, via Goal: "The difficulty for Jack is Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, we have got incredible players in those positions, we have competitions for places.
"Those four have been with us for a long time and been exceptional in their performances for us in terms of Marcus and Raheem.
"Jadon is just breaking through and I think everybody is aware of his potential, and Mason Greenwood's goalscoring record and performances with Manchester United were outstanding.
"It is an area of the field where we have people like Callum Hudson-Odoi as well. I know at times Villa play Jack as a midfield player – that is not as I see him in the way we play.
"So with us he would be a wide player or a 10, and at the moment I think we have got players who deserve to be in just ahead of him."
Southgate, who played over 200 times for Aston Villa as a player, also insisted he is not affected by 'big club' bias when selecting his players.
"Jack is unfortunate," Southgate said. "I’ll be getting crucified by the Villa fans who’ve still never forgiven me for leaving for Middlesbrough anyway, but c’est la vie. I did pick Tyrone Mings so it’s not a club thing."