Raheem Sterling: England winger can handle criticism - Gareth Southgate
Raheem Sterling is "ballsy" and will bounce back from recent struggles, says England manager Gareth Southgate.
The 22-year-old winger was replaced at half-time during England's 4-0 victory over Malta on Friday.
He was sent off after scoring the winner for Manchester City at Bournemouth last week and linked with a swap deal for Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez.
"He is a player we have a lot of time for - he's really ballsy," said Southgate.
Southgate added it was "difficult" for Sterling to be removed for Marcus Rashford at the interval but he "took it really professionally".
"It is much harder to be a creative player than the lump that I was because I was just stopping people and that's much easier," said former England centre-back Southgate.
"To go and beat people, and to beat people in tight spaces, some days that happens and some days it doesn't," said Southgate.
"In the first half, it was the latter for Raheem - but he will bounce back from that."
Manchester City were reportedly considering offering Sterling as part of a deal for Arsenal forward Sanchez before a bid of £55m, plus £5m add-ons, for the Chile international was rejected by the Gunners.
Sterling joined City from Liverpool in 2015 for an initial £44m, rising to £49m, but now faces competition from the likes of Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva to make Pep Guardiola's starting side.
"He has bounced back from things throughout his career, so I've no doubt in my mind that he'll cope with that," said Southgate.
"He started the season with Manchester City well. He is of course at a club where they have got an incredible amount of attacking talent, but he is right in the mix with them."
'With victory we're virtually in Russia'
Group F leaders England host Slovakia at Wembley on Monday and victory would put them on the brink of qualifying for next year's World Cup in Russia.
"Our matches with them were really tight," said Southgate.
"They are strong, they're proud, they have good players like Marek Hamsik who can hurt you, so we've got to be thoroughly well prepared and recovered for the game.
"It's also a fantastic opportunity for us now. We have a home game and if we get the right result we are virtually in Russia."