Raheem Sterling has made more substitute appearances in the Premier League this season (4) than he made in each of his last three seasons at Manchester City (3). And that’s not coincidental. It’s the result of a progressive loss of form that has persisted from last season.
For a player who has been one of the club’s top performers in the last several years, his loss of form in the City shirt is baffling. More so when he puts up a show each time he shows up for England. He was one of the country’s standout players at the European Championships helping the Three Lions reach the EURO 2020 final.
Star striker Harry Kane came late to the party as he struggled to find his scoring boots early on. But Sterling stepped up and provided the goals that saw England progress from the group stage as table toppers. As a result, Gareth Southgate stuck with him all through the competition.
He was only held back in the final as the whole team struggled to fulfill a nation’s dream. “It’s coming home.” It was supposed to come home. Unfortunately, it didn’t. But that was not on Sterling, it was on the whole team. And on the manager.
At Manchester City though, Sterling’s form has been his responsibility. Having once been one of the top players in the team (like in the 2018/19 campaign), he had repaid the club’s faith in him. His £44m transfer fee paid to Liverpool in 2015 now looked like a real bargain. But he has been on a downward spiral since then.
Average last term, he has been a shadow of his old self recently. His numbers have dropped significantly. Compared to the 2019/20 campaign were he netted 20 goals in the league, he only managed 10 last term.
His profligacy in front of goal has continued this season. In nine appearances, he has found the back of the net just once. Even on a day when the team had League One side Wycombe at their mercy, Sterling could not get on the score sheet. Of the five senior team players who started the game, he was the only one not to score.
That is how difficult it has become for the 26-year-old to score goals.
It’s hard to pinpoint a particular reason why the winger is struggling at City. Especially as he is doing well for England. But he does seem like a player lacking motivation. He is not connecting with his manager at the level they both were a few seasons back.
Since the interview ahead of the Champions League fixture against Real Madrid, Sterling has not been the same. The forward confessed his admiration for the Spanish giants posing for a picture with the club’s jersey on his shoulder.
The media have done the rest.
And that has left us with a player that seems distracted and ready to move at the slightest hint of interest from Spain. He was constantly in the transfer rumours for a possible departure in the last transfer window. It’s not surprising then that Pep Guardiola has moved to hedge against any eventualities by bringing in Jack Grealish.
Grealish is now the favorite to occupy the left wing, a position that was reserved for Sterling. The latter now has to cope with reinventing himself to play as a striker. That is making the situation worse as was seen against Paris Saint-Germain.
But as already stated, it’s been a long time coming. Guardiola left Sterling out of the starting lineup for key Champions League encounters last season. The team was amazing against Borusia Dortmund and PSG beating both sides home and away.
Then he surprisingly started Sterling in the final. You know the result.
It now seems City struggle in most of the games Sterling starts. His poor form is rubbing off on the team as a whole. He started against Southampton. And against PSG on Tuesday.
With Jack Grealish not about to vacate the left wing soon, it’s difficult to say what the future holds. But Sterling must re-evaluate his commitment to the club, and be humble enough to put his head down and play to the manager’s instructions.
It’s clear the manager knows what he wants and how he wants his team to play. The most recent show of that was against Chelsea as Sterling watched from the substitutes bench. Sterling needs to clear his head and buy into Guardiola’s vision and tactics all over again for his own good.