When Raheem Sterling was signed from Liverpool for a staggering fee of £49million a year ago, unending levels of expectations were garnered around the then 20-year-old. With a hefty fee, there obviously comes a huge ask of catering to the demands of the new club in a better manner which was too burdensome to carry for the youngster.
This prized asset of English football was deemed as ‘overvalued’ and during the meltdown of Manchester City last season followed by a underwhelming outing at the Euros by England, Sterling was the one who faced the severity of criticism the most and was nicknamed as ‘the hated one’ by the fans for his lacklustre performances for the club as well as in the national colors. A player who tortured the defenders soon became a symbol of ridiculousness in the football fraternity.
However, under the new regime of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the bewildered storm that had been a menace for Sterling has ceased to exist as the winger now breathes a new life under the tutelage of the master tactician. Ever since it became clear that Guardiola would be succeeding Manuel Pellegrini, the Spaniard’s interest in Sterling has not been unknown and the player has justified his new manager’s faith.
Sterling has very quickly adapted Guardiola’s advocacy of high-pressing system coupled with tremendous work-rate and creativity. He played a crucial role in Manchester City’s 2-1 win over Sunderland in the first league game of the season as well as in the 5-0 thumping over Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League qualifiers by igniting the attack at the right time and again, drifting into the central region and posing himself as a daunting figure up front by slotting in for the tiki-taka football. Yesterday, he once again showed his incisive running, decision making and helped City clinch the game at a tough place.
His ability to hold on to the ball and go past the defenders with a commendable pace his legs offer is precisely the reason why Guardiola has approached Sterling with the proposal of implementing his dribbling skills on the right flank. He is given the license to roam and has the added responsibility of winning the ball high up the field and attack instantly.
Statistically speaking, the 21-year-old was successful in dribbling in six occasions, had 73 touches (he clocked just 49.3 touches per start last season), gained possessions 6 times, created a goal-scoring opportunity and was alive and energetic in throwing himself all over the pitch against Sunderland last weekend followed by a scintillating display against Steaua Bucharest by being the heart of attack which leave a clear evidence as to why Guardiola believes that Sterling is the cog in wheel of Manchester City. What goes on inside Guardiola’s brain in terms of tactical nous, Sterling has replicated them on the pitch so far.
To re-establish Manchester City’s dominance in the home turf and to go that extra yard to clinch the lucrative Champions League trophy, Guardiola needs to maximise the output from the English international. There are tougher tests waiting up ahead but the glimpses for the foreseeable future of the player-manager duo does look very promising. Sterling has started to respond to the criticism in a healthy manner and his impact in the three victories for the blue half of Manchester under the new era can rejuvenate his career and lay the foundations for the possibility of a very successful season.
Stats via Squawka.com