Raheem Sterling hasn't been a favorite player in the eyes of many English football fans. Notoriously known for smart footwork combined with unmatched pace, the kid on Merseyside was a hopeful talent. His potential and development was a frequent topic of conversation when discussing the English national team, and then came the summer of 2015.
Instead of a focus on ability and what he could possibly do for club and country, he became a want-away prima donna with antics off the pitch to match his attitude issues. For a teenager I can imagine it wasn’t the easiest time in his life, albeit an upgrade in salary couldn’t have hurt much.
Today the 22-year-old finds himself in a better place (depending on the club you support). Like many Manchester City supporters, I’d like to see more goals and better end product from his wing play, but I’m extremely hopeful of what’s to come this season. Up to this point I haven’t been disappointed.
I still have my reservations on what Sterling will consistently produce this season. I keep pinching myself as a reminder that apart from this very young season, his end product has always been in question. Should he be able to keep up his red hot start, his pace and work rate could leave Pep Guardiola with no option but to make him a consistent starter.
Having said all of that, if there was a match for Sterling to miss, you'd have to say this is the one his track record screams is best for the club and the player. Historically Sterling (and most former Reds) have found it difficult to play against Liverpool having represented them in the past.
I was pained and disappointed from both matches against Liverpool in the last campaign, and one of the barbs which stuck in my side was Sterling’s play. Whether at the Etihad or Anfield his confidence was wavering, and he seemed unsure of a simple pass in both matches last season. Facing Liverpool this Saturday with the form he’s in would be the perfect opportunity to shut the critics once in for all (until the next story about him spending his money, of course), but a dumb red card won’t give us the chance to see that.
After the additions to the squad this summer, though, the board and Guardiola shouldn’t be too bothered having Sterling in street clothes this Saturday. We shouldn’t forget that two years ago (before a certain Leroy arrived) we’d be concerned that Jesus Navas’ involvement would limit the team going forward, but things have changed. Now we have an embarrassing number of talented players in Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sané, Kevin De Bruyne or Gabriel Jesus that can take Sterling’s place on the wing.
The options would be too much for most, but I’ve got that funny feeling Guardiola enjoys a bit of tinkering.
Although many options are presented to Pep, my prediction is he'll revert to the formation which he believes will give City the most success in the Premier and Champions League (3-5-2). This will be a wide open affair and as Pep loves to remind us in his infectious Catalan accent, the team who takes the most chances will inevitably win the match.
When replacing Sterling, looking to our attacking options would be a true like for like, but I’m more concerned with how we stop Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal football. For the first time we'll be privileged to see the duo of Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker busting up the wings in attack and defense. In an ideal world the involvement of the City full-backs going forward and covering for the back three will be the topic post match, and we can let Raheem just be Raheem!
Should Vincent Kompany be unfit to play, Guardiola may be forced to update his formation to 4-3-3 and play a flat back four. Regardless of the formation he selects, I would push for Bernardo Silva to get in the starting 11 and show if he can truly be the replacement not just in name, but in production for the Blues.
Of course we all want Raheem to do well this season, and it would be sweet for him to bag a goal against Liverpool, but I’d prefer he save a few and let Bernardo or Sané get settled into their roles on the team this campaign.
I’ll be watching Saturday’s early kick off with two of my mates who both support the Reds (they aren’t bad people, promise). I’d be willing to put down a fiver they’ll be calling for the red card at AFC Bournemouth to be rescinded, and a tenner by match end we’ll all be drinking to a three points for City.