Raheem Sterling with a point to prove has always been dangerous as Man City winger gives Pep Guardiola food for thought ahead of Champions League semi-final with PSG with top display in Carabao Cup final victory over Spurs
- Raheem Sterling was handed a start by Pep Guardiola in the Carabao Cup final
- The Manchester City winger had only started in four out of City’s last 11 line-ups
- Sterling’s goal drought continued but he still offered something different for City
- The England winger will be in contention to start Wednesday’s clash with PSG
There was an incident, during Manchester City’s early attacking barrage, that might well give Pep Guardiola a little food for thought before Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
Raheem Sterling stood still. Inside the box, he remained rooted to his position and waited. He had located a pocket of space between defenders and trusted the ball would come his way.
So it did, Sterling heading wide under pressure as Tottenham defended for their lives while under siege. Standing still is an act stemming from an uncluttered mind and at odds with the Sterling of recent weeks. Guardiola will have noticed.
Raheem Sterling headed wide during Man City’s win over Spurs after standing still in the box
City manager Pep Guardiola does not like his forwards moving around in the penalty box
Guardiola does not want his forwards fidgeting inside the box. It was one of the complaints he levelled at them earlier in the season when everything appeared so laborious.
They moved too much then and Sterling has done that lately as well, agitating for a chance. There have been occasions when he has accidentally run himself away from a potential opportunity.
That comes from a desperation to impress, an attempt to fight a way back into form, but Sterling knows as well as anybody that in this City team, opportunities just present themselves.
Sterling should have left with a goal and or course he needs one, there is no doubting that. It is now over two months since his last for City.
Sterling stood and waited while chances presented themselves in the penalty box on Sunday
Yet there were signs of life at Wembley yesterday, a significant improvement on what had gone before, certainly a different player to the one who struggled so curiously in the same stadium a week prior.
There was an intensity to his performance – particularly during the opening quarter of the final, where he set the tone – that has not always been evident over the past three months.
Apart from counting his numbers and crosschecking them with the previous season, Sterling has always prided himself on offering something a little different in the middle third.
Not giving opponents a minute’s peace, driving City on as they counter, or taking up puzzling spaces. He returned to all of that and just needed a finish to go in for him. That will come.
The England winger was a regular thorn in the Spurs defence, especially down the left
‘Amazing,’ Guardiola said. ‘Amazing. Amazing. Especially because he showed the opponent that we came here to win the game in the first actions.
‘He was incredibly aggressive, which is not easy because (Serge) Aurier is such a fast defender. He was brilliant. Brilliant. His mentality was great. The last weeks he has trained really well in every session. He made an incredibly good performance. He deserved a goal.’
That edge Guardiola referenced had diminished considerably before he was eventually dropped after a defeat by Manchester United in early March, during which Aaron Wan Bissaka marshalled him with ease.
Guardiola has never picked an individual on more occasions than Sterling throughout his managerial career but this was only his fourth start in 11 matches, an unthinkable statistic for someone who finished last season as the club’s top scorer. Two of those starts were in heavily rotated squads, defeats against Leeds and Chelsea.
Guardiola went for Sterling in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final after leaving him out recently
Guardiola kept backing him publicly but team selections suggested otherwise, the Catalan’s decisions made easier given the form of both Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez. Yesterday served as proof that all three can operate in the same team but Foden and Mahrez have outshone Sterling this term.
Foden is simply undroppable at the moment, forever looking the most likely to conjure a goal. Even without naming a striker, there are Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva. Guardiola cannot fit them all in and Sterling has a job on to wrestle back his previous status.
That is what the City manager wants, though. He wants unhappy players – within reason – and there is a school of thought that Sterling’s sustained period on the periphery could do him and ultimately the team some good.
A Raheem Sterling with a point to prove has always been dangerous.
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