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Manchester City

Raheem Sterling could flourish in a not-so-new role for Manchester City

Alexis Monteith



Raheem Sterling

Manchester City have earned four points from their first two games with a 2-0 away win at Brighton and Hove Albion and a 1-1 draw at home to Everton. While there are no major complaints this early in the season it is not quite the flying start by City that many were expecting.

With a number of very talented new players on the roster it is Raheem Sterling, now in his third year at the club, who has featured most prominently in the discussions around the start of the club’s campaign.

He scored the goal that rescued Pep Guardiola’s team from embarrassment at the hands of Everton and he was also brought on in the first game at Brighton, along with Sane and Bernardo Silva, when Guardiola’s 3-5-2 formation, featuring wing-backs and no wingers, was struggling to pick apart Brighton’s packed defence.

Both of City’s games have shown that despite the obvious talent, pace and usefulness of City’s full-backs in their current formation, the team still needs that extra dynamism and the dribbling ability possessed by Sterling, Sane and Bernardo to break teams down.

Of these three players during pre-season, and since the start of the regular season, it is Sterling who has demonstrated the most that his current form can be an asset to Guardiola, especially if City stick to their current formation.

After the game against Brighton, Guardiola stated that he did have some doubts about leaving Sterling out of his starting eleven.  The Manchester Evening News quoted the Spaniard as saying: “The only doubt I had was Raz (Sterling), because Raz played amazing in pre-season through the middle.”

It is perhaps the last part of that quote that is the most telling of how Sterling could be utilised for maximum effect by the Spanish coach. Sterling has been playing mostly on the flanks during his time at Manchester City.

However, he has demonstrated his efficiency in the middle behind strikers, not just recently in City’s pre-season, but in the past for Liverpool and England. He can play from the right, in the middle and across to the left with deadly effect.

Over the past two weeks Manchester City’s forward pairing of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus has not proven to be the formidable attacking partnership many thought it would be.

One solution to this situation would be to take out one of the forwards and slot in Sterling behind a solitary striker, free to act as a number 10 marauding through the middle, left and right.

To have a clearer idea of how this role for the Jamaican-born midfielder could elevate City’s attacking game we need to go back a few years to when Sterling was utilized in a somewhat similar way very successfully by former Liverpool head coach Brendan Rodgers and ex-England manager Roy Hodgson.

In 2014, when Raheem Sterling played in his first World Cup tournament, his performance in a number 10 role against Italy garnered much praise from pundits and fans.

It was the pace for which he has become well-known and his dribbling ability that made him such a handful to deal with in central positions. He put in a memorable performance against the Italians, playing a key role in the build-up to a Daniel Sturridge goal in that game.

However, it was at Liverpool where he was given this very important responsibility, at a time when the talented player was still only a teenager. Brendan Rodgers alternated between using him as a winger and in central areas, where he sometimes functioned as a second striker or as a number 10.

The reasons for playing him, much like a trequartista, in this way are the same attributes that seem him often played as a winger. His remarkable dribbling pulls defenders and opens up spaces for other attackers. He is able to efficiently find spaces to run into and he is good at finding nearby attackers with his passing.

His pace, which is highly effective on the wing, is just as impactful in the middle. Guardiola’s teams often use fast players on the flanks to quickly cover distances in attack, but Sterling can do this with his runs through the middle, offering another speedy bridge from the midfield to forward areas.

This adds another dimension to the game and is another way of breaking down defences. At the moment, Yaya Toure is the player who on the odd occasion does this, making lumbering runs with the ball from the middle of the pitch into the final third.

With new and talented wing-backs now available to Guardiola, it makes sense to move Sterling into central areas when playing three at the back to create this additional option for penetration.

The pace on the flanks, combined with Sterling’s speed in the middle is exactly what City needs to speed up its overall attacking play, which is sometimes judged as too slow to unlock defences.

David Silva, who is known as Manchester City’s midfield magician, is pure quality with the ball at his feet, but does not have the speed that Sterling possesses.

The Englishman, in his new role, would not necessarily be a replacement for Silva, but could be an addition to the Spaniard. His presence centrally would also be a huge asset whenever City have the opportunity to counterattack through the middle of the pitch.

In Guardiola’s first year at City he had to contend with ageing full-backs, who had lost their pace. While he did sometimes used Sterling centrally, he was more needed as a winger due to City’s defensive problem.

Now this issue has been solved, through the recent addition of full-backs Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and Danilo, it is no surprise to see Guardiola presently experiencing a revelation regarding Sterling’s effectiveness in central areas, having used him in that position to good effect during pre-season.

Sterling’s goal and performance against Everton would have further hammered home the point.

There are a few strategies Guardiola could look to deploy, with regard to Raheem Sterling, in a formation with three defenders at the back. Replacing the second striker with the Englishman, as mentioned previously, is one option.

He could also use Sterling as a wing-backs, but that would reduce his presence in the forward attacking areas due to defensive responsibilities. Also, until Guardiola is comfortable that his central defenders are performing better than they did last year, this might not be the wisest of moves.

Another option would be to play a 3-4-3, in which he would play to the right of the striker, as usual, but with a license to move into central areas or even right across the final third. Whenever he does this, the right wing-back could fill the space Sterling vacates during City’s attacking moves.

Pep Guardiola’s recent rediscovery of Sterling’s effectiveness in central areas, brought about through the use of the current team formation, makes the young player as exciting a prospect as any new signing this season.

Raheem Sterling’s preferred position is in the middle and he could flourish with the greater freedom of a trequartista/number 10 role that would allow him to utilise his dangerous dribbling, pace and combination play. This is something that City have shown they still need, despite the new signings made over the summer.

I'm a Manchester City and Inter fan writing about European football but my interest also extends to the United States and Major League Soccer.

Manchester City

Manchester City must guard against complacency



Photo: Reuters

Manchester City have been absolutely fantastic this season after they failed to pick up any silverware last term, the first time Pep Guardiola has gone a whole season as manager without winning a trophy of some description.

It looked like the Premier League leaders would become the second side to complete an invincible campaign but Liverpool ended their hopes of that with a classic 4-3 win.

After the weekend’s action, the Citizens have a 16-point lead over 2nd-placed Manchester United but must make sure they don’t let that slip away.

It is an extremely tough task for any of the Premier League’s top sides if they want to catch the Citizens but they certainly shouldn’t lose hope of closing that substantial gap.

In the two games after losing to Jürgen Klopp’s side, Man City didn’t falter and scored six goals to earn six more points but in the third match, they failed to beat a resilient Burnley unit.

They drew 1-1 which was disappointing after taking the lead from a scorching Danilo strike in the first-half.

The two results against the Clarets and Liverpool have showed that Pep Guardiola hasn’t built a completely bulletproof team.

The two matches that they have dropped points in since the New Year were against very different teams.

Liverpool are sublime going forward but leave a lot to be desired for at the back, while Burnley are an incredibly tight defensive squad with little cutting edge in attack.

The latter relied on an 82nd-minute ‘smash-and-grab’ equaliser while the former overcame City with a furious nine-minute spell in which they scored three goals to put the fixture beyond doubt.

This should give confidence to every other team in the league as a side who aren’t considered by anyone as one of the Premier League’s ‘big teams’ managed to take points from them.

Man City are facing a few tough fixtures in the league as well as some congestion as they are still fighting on four fronts.

Their next four matches are in four different competitions with one in both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup, and their first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League, before a return to Premier League action.

Their two league games after next week are against Arsenal and Chelsea and while wins in those would be considered as them getting one hand on the title, they could easily slip up.

You can get 21/5  for Chelsea to beat City on Sunday 4th March. For a Man City win, punters can get 8/13 and 29/10 if it’s a Draw.

You can have Man City to beat the Blues in your 5+ Acca Insurance with Coral Betting and if one of your legs lets you down, you’ll receive your stake back.

To win the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side currently sit at odds of 1/500, so you’re likely to find more value in the race for the top four, where you can back Chelsea at evens and Arsenal at a HUGE 14/1.

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With four matches in the space of three weeks, including the EFL Cup final and a Champions League match, Manchester City might encounter some injuries and that could be their undoing in the games against Chelsea and Arsenal.

The two London sides have certainly got their problems but the Gunners look like a different animal with a couple of very good January signings while Chelsea can be absolutely fantastic if all of their players are fit and firing, especially Eden Hazard who has been linked with a move to Man City.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are in an unbelievable position to go on and win their third Premier League title but as their Spanish boss has said, they aren’t over the line yet and still have a lot of work to do over the next 12 matches.

It would be unimaginable for them to let their lead at the top of the table slip but a run of poor results or a bad set of injured players and they could be in a bit of trouble.

However, they are still on for a sublime quadruple and at the end of this month they have the chance to win their first piece of silverware in the EFL Cup final against Arsenal.

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Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech



Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke



There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…


There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  


It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th


You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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