Raheem Sterling had a week to remember as he scored in back-to-back games for Manchester City. A particularly smart finish against Everton was reminiscent of a player that consistently made the headlines for the right reasons at the Etihad Stadium a few seasons back.
But a dip in form stretching back to the better part of last season has seen him fall down the pecking order in Pep Guardiola’s eyes. Phil Foden, and more recently Jack Grealish are now the manager’s preferred options to man the left wing.
That has left Sterling with the crumbs of substitute appearances in important matches, when he does get a look in. Frustrated with the development, the winger made known his desire to leave the club by January, in search of regular playing time.
It does seem the manager has sought to give him more opportunities to prove he deserves to play since the revelation. The forward is now featuring more frequently in games and appears to be rediscovering his goal-scoring touch.
Recent injuries to Ferran Torres, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden have widened the window of opportunity for the former Liverpool man. He has jumped right in as if with the intent of proving a point to the gaffer.
After playing well in the league game against Everton, the 26-year-old played a key role in the Champions League comeback win against Paris Saint-Germain.
He was in the right place at the right time to poke home the equaliser as City rallied back after going a goal down to beat the French giants 2-1.
But it was not just about the goal, he had a good game. His overall contribution was good. From passing, to link-up play and arriving in the box to apply the finishing touch, the forward was above average.
It remains to be seen what will happen when Foden, Grealish and Kevin De Bruyne make a return to the team. Sterling will have to fight for his place all over again. He will need to convince the manager he deserves to start ahead of one of the trio.
But is that something he is willing to do? Guardiola made a huge statement by prioritising Grealish’s signing despite the glaring need for a striker. That’s why Sterling may be fighting an uphill battle.
Ordinarily, finding the back of the net in his last three games for City, (including against Club Brugge) should put him in a strong position to reclaim his place in the team. But the level of competition to contend with will require going the extra mile to win the manager over again.
Despite finding the back of the net in his last three outings, Guardiola insists Sterling still has work to do.
“I’m so glad for him, he’s helped us for sure,” Guardiola said ahead of West Ham’s visit to the Etihad.
“He will fight to be better and better.
“It’s important for strikers and wingers to score and get assists. He was decisive, and decisive in what we’ve done in recent years.
“Scoring goals can give confidence but he has to do better, this is the first step for him to come back.”
This then may just be the first step in a steep climb back to the top for Sterling. He will need to put forth a consistent run of good performances to regain his lost glory.