Manchester City have started the season in great form under Pep Guardiola and are the current favourites to win the Premier League title. There is an array of talent available to the Spaniard and he is using a formation that gets the best from them. During the first six matches of the season, they have scored 21 goals, which is impressive and underlines the threat they pose in the final third.
Raheem Sterling has played a significant role of that success and looks to be a player reborn since the new season started. The Telegraph reported earlier this month that City’s Premier League rivals believe that the winger isn’t wanted by the club and that he will be offloaded once Guardiola’s team takes shape. However, he is performing on a weekly basis and is enjoying the most successful spell since his arrival at the Etihad Stadium.
The following comments from Guardiola, as reported by the Evening Standard, show that the club see Sterling as a part of their future.
“Raz [Raheem] is staying here. The club trust him, that is why we have invested a lot of money in him, so the players we have are going to stay.”
It is difficult to see the club wanting to sell the England international now, as he has scored six goals in all competitions already. He is the club’s second top scorer behind only Sergio Aguero and he hasn’t always been on the pitch. Sterling is only 22 years of age and it was incredible to see him written off by the press during the summer as he is still in the primitive stage of his career. He is in the right place for his own development and the early signs are that he could be set for the best season of his career so far.
Sterling’s season so far in numbers
After starting the season out of the first-team, Sterling has worked hard and impressed during his short time on the pitch. He has made six Premier League appearances, four of which were from the start, totalling 2388 minutes. The 22-year-old will recognise that he won’t start every week, but if he takes his chances when he is on the pitch, he will future his own cause. This is exactly what he has done during the first few weeks of the new season.
Sterling takes up a wide position when he is selected in the team and has shown that he is capable of playing on either side of the pitch. From the matches so far, it looks like the winger has been told to be direct and look to offer a goal threat rather than create chances for his team-mates. Guardiola knows that Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and the full-backs will take up most of the creative responsibility, leaving the attackers to take up more dangerous positions in the centre.
During his career, Sterling has always been excellent at using his pace to run in behind and threaten the goal, but his finishing has been mixed. This season, it has dramatically improved as evidenced by his shot accuracy of 47%. In the Premier League, he is averaging 4.41 shots per ninety minutes, which is marginally less than Aguero. The Argentine is averaging 4.43 per ninety minutes.
This is impressive and highlights how goal-oriented Sterling is when he is on the pitch. An impressive average of 3.25 shots are coming from inside the area, underlining the role that he is carrying out. The 22-year-old is getting into the area as frequently as possible and offering support to Gabriel Jesus and Aguero. At times, it looks like he is operating as a centre-forward.
In terms of creativity, Sterling is producing fewer chances than he was last season. During the 2016/17 campaign, he averaged 1.65 chances created per ninety minutes and that is down to 1.39 this season. The fall isn’t drastic and the dramatic increase in shot output suggests that he is now carrying more of a threat in the final third, despite the drop in creativity.
These stats are very impressive, but they come from a small sample. He has only played 388 minutes in the Premier League and averages are skewed by this. It will not be until he has reached the 1000-minute mark that his productivity will be accurately reflected. However, the early indications are encouraging and suggest that the 22-year-old has a huge role to play at the Etihad Stadium this season.
Should he be a starter?
This is a difficult question at Manchester City, as they have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to attacking talent. Bernardo Silva joined in the summer and has only gained 169 minutes of Premier League football. Leroy Sane has been in excellent form at the start of this season, while De Bruyne and David Silva remain ever-presents.
Another barrier to playing time is the formation. If Guardiola opts to field Jesus alongside Sergio Aguero, there is no place in the team for out-and-out wingers. Sterling’s performances so far should be enough to earn him a prominent role during the next few weeks. The City manager will look to utilise the attacking players that are in the best form and promote competition for places.
However, he won’t hesitate in reducing Sterling’s playing time if he starts to struggle in the final third. The England international might be making the headlines at the moment, but given the squad that City have at their disposal, he has to maintain his form to keep his place.
At the age of 22, Sterling will be pleased with his current status. He is a regular for a Premier League side that is challenging for the title and in the form of his life. City would have regretted their decision if they had sold him during the summer and it now looks an impossibility that they will offload him any time soon.