Raheem Sterling has fallen out of favour and is fighting for his future at the Etihad but Man City were a better team with him in the side against Burnley
- Man City stayed within touching distance of the top after beating Burnley 2-0
- Raheem Sterling was previously an ever-present under Pep Guardiola at City
- The forward scored a fair chunk of ‘Guardiola goals’ from the right side
- But his future at the Etihad is uncertain after starting just three games this term
There was a goal that came to define Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City during the earlier years of his reign. Its excellence derived from its simplicity. City would recycle possession and stretch the game, before working a ball wide and towards the byline.
One winger would latch on to a pass and, often without looking, sidefoot across the six-yard box. The other winger waited to tap in.
The opposition knew what to expect but had no way of stopping it. City scored this goal over and over again. More often than not, Raheem Sterling was the man finishing the chances off. The man in exactly the right place, just ahead of his marker, timing his run perfectly and passing into the net. On to the next one.
Raheem Sterling (above) used to be the man finishing the chances off for Manchester City
The forward has scored a fair chunk of the ‘Guardiola goals’ from the right-hand side
But City have needed to find different ways to attack. When defences sit deeper and deeper — as was the case against Burnley — it leads to an increased number of high crosses. That will never be this team’s forte. Not until they sign Erling Haaland, anyway.
Sterling scored a fair chunk of the ‘Guardiola goals’ from the right-hand side before eventually switching flanks and, in 2019, becoming one of the most feared marksmen in Europe.
As his manager said on Friday in response to Sterling’s declaration in an interview that he may consider leaving the Etihad Stadium if more starts are not forthcoming, people and circumstances change.
Sterling, the most-selected player of Guardiola’s 14-year coaching career, is now fighting for his future at the Premier League champions because ultimately, he wants to remain at the club and continue winning trophies with them. Sterling did not play poorly on Saturday and City are a better team with his inclusion.
Sterling is the most-selected player of Pep Guardiola’s (left) 14-year coaching career
There were a number of jinking runs once he moved to the left wing from a central position at half-time, purposeful darts that take defenders to places they would rather not be. ‘We have the ability to run in behind and Raheem is the best we have in our team,’ Guardiola said. ‘That is why we decided to swap positions.’
He also made an impression when introduced as a substitute at Liverpool prior to the international break and caused Paris Saint-Germain problems too. Sterling has had his moments in recent weeks but not the moment.
On at least three occasions against Burnley, balls either did not quite fall for him inside the box or team-mates, primarily Riyad Mahrez, opted not to square the ball to him.
He will hope another start comes at Club Bruges on Tuesday for a Champions League clash that Ederson and Gabriel Jesus have made themselves available for. The Brazilians missed Saturday having flown straight to Belgium following the international break.
Bereft of confidence — he might argue that is owing to a lack of faith from his manager — Sterling is not performing with the same conviction as two years ago. He is too good for that not to return but nobody is quite sure when.
On at least three occasions against Burnley, balls either did not quite fall for him in the box
Guardiola said afterwards that the 26-year-old deserved credit for his performance but this is a Ballon d’Or nominee; he will not be content with a six-out-of-10 display on a humdrum afternoon.
Sterling will be mindful of not jeopardising his England place ahead of next year’s World Cup. He will play anywhere and there is a school of thought that Guardiola could move him to the right.
The pair’s relationship has apparently not deteriorated with the week’s events and mutual respect exists — more so than towards the end of last season, when Guardiola dropping Sterling for the biggest matches coincided with the player resisting talks over a new contract.
These are big weeks approaching for Sterling and will offer a decent indication of which way his career at City is headed. History suggests he will come roaring back.
Sterling will be mindful of not jeopardising his England place ahead of next year’s World Cup