CNN  — 

England manager Gareth Southgate compared his squad to “a family” as the spat between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez threatened to overshadow the international window.

Sterling has been dropped for England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday due to the altercation with his national teammate.

“I love all of my players. We are like a family. The important thing is for a family to communicate and work through problems,” Southgate told reporters. “I don’t expect as a manager to not have to deal with issues.”

Southgate went on to suggest that Sterling had been the aggressor in the incident, though he wouldn’t comment on whether an apparent scratch under Gomez’s eye was a result of the clash.

Manchester City’s star forward said “emotions got the better of me” during a “five to ten second thing” with the Liverpool defender at St. George’s Park, the national team’s training complex.

“Raheem in his [social media] post last night explained for a very brief moment his emotions ran over. It would be correct to say that’s not the same for Joe. In the end I have to find the right solution for the group.

“That’s a difficult line, you try to be fair when dealing with all players. I won’t always get that right but I am the manager. Raheem is very important for us but I felt it was the right thing.”

Raheem Sterling speaks with Joe Gomez following the English Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City on Sunday.

The pair had previously clashed during Sunday’s English Premier League fixture between Liverpool and Manchester City as the race for the title heated up.

The English Football Association confirmed there had been a “disturbance in a private team area” on Monday but that Sterling would remain with the squad.

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Football journalist Darren Lewis told CNN Sport that Southgate’s ruling was “curious” and questioned whether he would have made the same decision if England had been playing one of the world’s elite teams.

“It seems as though Sterling is being used for Southgate to assert his authority and make a statement of some sort,” he told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies.

“He [Sterling] is a key player, he is one of the players that the junior players look up to. He’s influential on the pitch, he’s influential off the pitch.

“To treat him as he [Southgate] has done suggests he is treating him like a kid.”

Sterling took to social media to assure both he and Gomez were “good” and that focus was solely on Thursday’s game at Wembley.

“Both Joe and I have had words and figured things out and moved on,” Sterling posted on Instagram.

England manager Gareth Southgate has been questioned for his handling of the incident.

“We are in a sport where emotions run high and I am man enough to admit when emotions got the better of me.”

A win against Montenegro would confirm England’s place at Euro 2020 but manager Gareth Southgate said the decision to drop Sterling was made with the “agreement of the entire squad.”

“One of the great challenges and strengths for us is that we’ve been able to separate club rivalries from the national team,” said Southgate.

“Unfortunately the emotions of yesterday’s game were still raw.”

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Southgate criticized

Former England international Rio Ferdinand believes the row should have been kept behind closed doors and has criticized Southgate for his handling of the situation.

By going public with the incident, Ferdinand worries that Sterling will once again be left to defend himself against unfair criticism that has plagued his career.

“Let’s be honest now, this kind of stuff isn’t uncommon in squads full of testosterone,” former Manchester United defender Ferdinand wrote on Facebook, suggesting Sterling grabbed his teammate’s throat.

“In the various squads I have been a part of I have seen players get punched in the face, ribs broken, nose busted, head kicked like a football … a throat grab was the equivalent of the intricate handshake embraces that are all too familiar today!

“I just feel this could and should have been handled better to support the player & not hang him out to dry.”

Now a pundit, Ferdinand made 81 appearances for the national team but failed to win a trophy despite being part of an exciting side dubbed the ‘golden generation.’

Many of that team, including the likes of Steven Gerrard, who played for Liverpool, and ex-Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, have spoken about how club rivalries prevented the side from reaching its full potential.

“We didn’t hate each other, we went but by nature, we would sit on tables and stick together slightly,” Lampard told BT Sport.

“A lot of other nations have players playing all over the world and then they come back together and probably don’t have that competitiveness. Every week we were at each other in some way shape or form. “

Since taking the England job in 2016, Southgate has worked hard to rectify the unity within the squad and saw success with the team’s semifinal run at the 2018 World Cup.