Is Raheem Sterling emerging as one of the best attackers in Europe?
Manchester City have been remarkable this season and are emerging as one of the best teams in Premier League history. Their summer recruitment was smart and they strengthened areas that were seen as weak last season. However, concerns arose regarding the future of Raheem Sterling.
The arrival of Bernardo Silva threatened to limit his game-time and there were reports linking him to Arsenal as part of a swap deal to capture Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez. That didn’t happen, but few would have predicted the breakout season that the winger has had. He was always seen as a good player, but he is now performing at a level that he can be considered one of the best attackers in Europe.
The league leaders remain unbeaten and they delivered one of their best performances of the season at the weekend as they ran out 4-1 winners against Tottenham. Within six days, they secured three victories, including wins against top-six rivals Manchester United and Spurs. If there were any remaining doubts about the quality of this City team, they have now been put to bed. It is now a matter of when will, rather than if, they win the Premier League title.
Sterling showed his high level of confidence during the match, recovering from a few missed chances to score twice and clinch the result for his team. There was one particular opportunity that he should have done better with, blasting a rebound over the bar. If this happened in previous seasons, the winger may have hidden as a result in order to avoid making any more mistakes. However, he has improved significantly under Pep Guardiola and continued to put himself in positions to cause problems for Spurs.
The City manager will not be bothered about Sterling missing chances, as long as he doesn’t let it affect his confidence and he continues to get into threatening situations. The Englishman’s first goal displayed good movement from the winger as he kept up with play before giving teammate Leroy Sane an easy option from a squared pass.
Meanwhile, his second goal showed excellent composure as he ran through on goal and coolly slotted past Hugo Lloris, before rounding the Frenchman to ensure the ball was goalbound. Again, an earlier version of the 23-year-old would have rushed the finish, but he is now a more accomplished player and always carries a goal threat.
Against Tottenham, Sterling attempted six shots – more than any other player on the pitch. Guardiola has directed him to play a more advanced role and that is evident when he is in action. He operates as a secondary striker and is encouraged to move into central areas to pose a threat to the opposition goal, whereas Leroy Sane is the carrying out a more creative role on the opposite wing.
In addition to his influence in the six yard box, the England international continues to pose problems when running with the ball. He completed two dribbles and made three key passes on Saturday evening, showing that he has become a well-rounded player under his Spanish head coach.
Is he one of the best attackers in Europe?
One swallow doesn’t make a summer and Sterling will have to display this quality over a longer stretch of time before he can be considered as one of the best attackers in Europe. However, on current form, he has emerged as one of the biggest goal threats in the Premier League, and certainly has to be considered. Sterling is currently third in the English top flight’s list of highest scorers, with 11. He has scored a goal every 110 minutes – a better ratio than both Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku.
Few would have predicted that at the beginning of the season, but he has developed considerably over the last six months. Guardiola is one of the best coaches in the world and he has displayed that once again with Manchester City. His critics will point towards the money that he has spent, but that would be oversimplifying the job that he is doing. The players that he has inherited have benefited from his coaching, with Fabian Delph, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Sterling all playing the best football of their careers.
At the age of 23, Sterling is now producing the consistency and quality that people hoped he would. The move to Manchester City was a risk at the time, but the arrival of Guaridola has breathed new life into the winger’s career and he still has time to develop even further. During the summer, it was thought that the England international would play a decreased role this season, but he has started 13 of the 18 Premier League matches that City have played.
The second half of the season and the coming World Cup will show us whether Sterling has become a world class footballer. It is too soon to get carried away, but his form so far this season is enough to suggest he is on the right track.