Gareth Southgate has explained a lack of goal involvements and regular football led to the respective omissions of Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli from his latest England squad.
Lingard and Alli were two of the stars of England's run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup but have struggled for their best form of late.
Liverpool's Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain has been similarly left out, with Southgate unable to ignore the claims of James Maddison and Mason Mount.
"I think Jesse's had a difficult period. He's aware of that," the England manager told a Wembley news conference after announcing his line-up for this month's Euro 2020 qualifying trips to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
"I retain huge faith in Jesse because he's a player who's always played well for us, he's never let us down. His performance level for England has been excellent.
"As an attacking midfield player you are going to be judged on your goals and assists. When you look at the likes of [Raheem] Sterling and [Jadon] Sancho, those numbers are high currently.
"It's a really high bar. The competition is far greater than it was 18 months ago because we've pushed young players in early, given them opportunities and those players have flourished.
"Jesse is another player who we believe can fight his way back into the squad but, when you look at those names that we've just talked about, it shows you the competition for places that we've got."
He added: "[Oxlade-Chamberlain] is a little bit like Dele, really, where the season hasn't quite got going for either of them. But we're expecting them to challenge in the next couple of months.
"To put them in means I've got to leave someone out who's in form and is playing well – a Mason Mount or a James Maddison. They're in competition with those guys.
"Whenever you ask me who I've left out, who am I leaving out to bring them back in? It's a difficult call in those positions. I think all the players would recognise the rationale for the decisions."
Another of those left out to prompt discussion was Kyle Walker, with the Manchester City right-back overlooked in favour of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier.
"Kyle is a slightly more defensive full-back, has good qualities with the ball. The other two boys we felt did well last month and we didn't feel the decision to change would be the right one," Southgate added.
"I think he's playing well, it’s not the case that he's playing poorly. We've just got really good competition in certain positions on the field."
Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori are the headline inclusions having, along with Mount, benefitted from Frank Lampard putting faith in Chelsea's youth products.
Southgate stated Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden is "close" to a senior breakthrough but suggested the 19-year-old - who scored against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League on Tuesday but only has one 10-minute appearance in the Premier League this season – realistically needs to make more frequent appearances for Pep Guardiola's side.
"It's clearly difficult to assess exactly where Phil sits compared to others, given the opportunities at his club – which I totally understand because of the quality of players he's up against," Southgate said.
"He's another player for the future. We have to be patient for his development, but that's fine.
"We think he's still progressing well, he's learning from one of the best coaches in the world and his time will come."