Daniel Sturridge has been ruled out of England's World Cup qualifier against Moldova on Friday as he continues to receive treatment on the thigh injury that has prevented him from training with the squad this week. The Southampton striker, Rickie Lambert, will start in his place.
Sturridge had played in pain as his club side defeated Manchester United last Sunday, scoring the winning goal to maintain his excellent start to the new campaign. The 24-year-old had been eager to play against Moldova and, despite Brendan Rodgers expressing some concern over his fitness, had reported to Roy Hodgson's squad at St George's Park on Monday to be assessed by the national team's medical staff.
He was not risked in training and has continued to receive treatment on the thigh but, with his rehabilitation ongoing, England have decided to release him back into Liverpool's care having acknowledged he would not be fit to play on Friday. Sturridge will return to the squad to be assessed again over the weekend before a decision is made whether or not to take him to Ukraine on Sunday evening ahead of Tuesday's more critical qualifier in Kiev.
The injury is a blow for Sturridge, whose form for his club – he has scored the winning goal in each of Liverpool's three Premier League matches as they top the fledgling table, and twice in a League Cup victory over Notts County – had suggested he might earn his seventh cap against Moldova, a side ranked 123rd in the world.
His absence leaves Hodgson with Danny Welbeck and Lambert who scored on debut against Scotland last month. Jermain Defoe is the only other recognised striker in the squad, with Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling making up the forward ranks.
"I have picked the team and Rickie Lambert will start, yes," Hodgson said. "He deserves a chance. I can't deny had Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge had been available, it would have been harder for him to get a starting place but I am more than happy to have a player of his calibre to start this game.
"It's a great opportunity for the ones who maybe wouldn't have got a game had they been available. (Sturridge) has worked hard at his treatment and the initial prognosis was that he wouldn't be fit for either of them but he didn't accept that. He's worked very hard and had the necessary treatment but I think it will be touch and go."
Hodgson also revealed Cardiff defender Steven Caulker had turned his ankle in training and is out of contention to play. "Unfortunately, in training he turned his ankle. It's not a serious matter but it will keep him out of the game tomorrow night. It won't keep him out of the Ukraine game, he's expected to do some running tomorrow evening, but he won't be on the bench tomorrow night."
Having watched three Sturridge goals guide Liverpool to three consecutive 1-0 Premier League wins in the new season, England captain Steven Gerrard is especially disappointed his club colleague will miss out against Moldova.
"It's a shame for Daniel," the midfielder said. "He's in form and I expected him to shine on the international stage as well so fingers crossed he can come back on Saturday evening and the injury's settled down so he's available for Tuesday.
"He certainly makes the squad a lot stronger.
"Tuesday will be a more difficult test but we're playing Moldova first and we've still got to be professional and put in a good performance.
"If we show the same attitude and professionalism as we did when we went away from home then we could be comfortable tomorrow night.
"It's a big week and we need as many points as possible."