MANCHESTER (AP) – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was determined to keep playing Raheem Sterling, sure that a regular run of games — and not a spell out of the team — would help the England winger recover the scoring form that recently had deserted him.
Now that decision has been taken out of Guardiola’s hands.
City’s announcement that Sterling has a damaged left hamstring and will miss tomorrow’s match against West Ham has raised fears that he also could miss crucial upcoming games like the English League Cup final against Aston Villa and the Champions League match against Real Madrid.
Will being taken out of the firing line be such a bad thing for Sterling, who has played 98 games for his club and his country since the 2018 World Cup and appears to be suffering from a crisis of confidence in front of goal?
Guardiola, for one, wouldn’t agree.
“Does he need a rest? I don’t think so,” Guardiola said last week, adding that Sterling “could play every two days”.
“The more he plays, the better he feels,” the Spaniard said.
Guardiola has been ignoring the statistics — no goals for Sterling in eight games, no home goal since October 26 — and the fact that Sterling has missed a series of glaring chances with only the goalkeeper to beat in recent games, most obviously home and away against Manchester United in the League Cup semifinals and against Sheffield United in the Premier League.
Instead, the City manager has been trying to accentuate the positives. Like the fact that Sterling had got into the position to score, that he had created many of the spurned chances himself, that his defensive work remained exemplary.
Yet there’s no doubt Sterling’s dip in scoring form is a worry, snatching at opportunities while often showing a poor finishing technique.
How it has come to this, with Sterling having started this season by scoring 21 goals in his first 20 games overall, is a topic of some debate.
The slow-down in goals really began after his 21st game of the season, which happens to be the game where he got in a confrontation with Liverpool defender Joe Gomez both on the field — in City’s 3-1 loss at Anfield — and off it. The pair also squared up in the England cafeteria while on international duty the following day — Sterling reportedly told Gomez, “So you think you’re the big man?” — and was briefly dropped by England coach Gareth Southgate.
Starting from that loss at Anfield last November 10, Sterling has only gotten on the scoresheet in four of his 20 appearances, one of those games coming for England.
Could the repercussions of that clash with Gomez still be affecting him?
If that is unlikely, another theory is that the departure of former City assistant coach Mikel Arteta to Arsenal might have impacted on Sterling’s finishing.
Guardiola has been open about the fact that Arteta’s work with Sterling on the training ground improved the winger’s finishing in recent years, making him more composed and confident in front of goal. Since Arteta left, Sterling has played 10 games and only scored twice.