Raheem Sterling's ruthless goal-scoring is the fruition of Pep Guardiola's latest Manchester City project

Guardiola wanted Sterling to add goals to his game and the winger has delivered this season with several crucial contributions 

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Monday 27 November 2017 18:07
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Raheem Sterling has eight league goals and 12 in all competitions
Raheem Sterling has eight league goals and 12 in all competitions

It was back in Bournemouth, in August, after just the second win of Manchester City’s remarkable season, when Pep Guardiola made clear what he had in mind for Raheem Sterling this season. Sterling had just won City the game in dramatic circumstances, his 96th-minute shot deflecting off Andrew Surman’s heel and in, sparking celebrations so wild that Mike Dean officiously sent Sterling off.

“If he would be a guy with a little bit more sense of the goal,” Guardiola said of Sterling, “he would be one of the most incredible players.” He said it was his job to encourage Sterling to be more positive, more confident and more decisive in the box, and that if he could, the rewards were obvious.

Three months on, Guardiola seems to be getting through. Sterling is City’s top scorer for the season, with 12 goals, edging ahead of Sergio Aguero (11), Gabriel Jesus (10) and Leroy Sane (8). That already makes this the best goal-scoring season of his career and we are only one third of the way through. Although he did not want to name his goal targets when asked afterwards, on current form he should be aiming for 20 in the league and could even reach 30 in all competitions.

It is not just the numbers of goals though, but the nature of them, that is so important to City. Last season he had a reputation for scoring the fifth goal in a 5-0 win but this year he now has four crucial late ones to his name: an 82nd-minute equaliser against Everton, the 96th-minute winner against Bournemouth, an 88th-minute winner against Feyenoord last week and then an 84th-minute winner at Huddersfield Town on Sunday afternoon. These are the goals of a player who is becoming as decisive as Guardiola always hoped.

“He is winning games, now he is a winning player,” Guardiola said. “Before, ok, he would make good actions, but now he is able to win games. We are in November, and he has already broken the record, so that is top.”

But there is even more to his improvement than goals alone. “He is now strong, keeping the ball. Before he would lose a lot of balls, now he is keeping the situation much, much better. One against one, provoke fouls.” Sterling has won two crucial penalties for City this month, against Arsenal and Huddersfield, which is a skill in itself.

Sterling scores his second against Crystal Palace in September (AFP/Getty)

It is all the more impressive because Guardiola has had to change how he first planned to use Sterling this year. Sterling spent most of last season playing out wide, because City did not have good attacking full-backs, so Sterling and Sane had to provide the width. The hope at the start of the season was that Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy would allow Sterling to come inside and attack the opposition centre-backs.

But the injury to Mendy has reduced City’s wide options so they are often back to playing a 4-3-3 like last season’s set up. When City famously won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge they had Sterling playing as wide as he could, to pin back Marcos Alonso. It worked brilliantly and City recorded a statement win.

When Guardiola arrived at City he made Sterling one of his first projects, telling him that he would fight for the youngster as long as he was willing to work hard in return. Usefully versatile, newly decisive, always dangerous in the opposition box, the evidence of this season is that Sterling is playing better than he ever has done before. To his credit, and to Guardiola’s.

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