With the pressure mounting on Manchester City to deliver in Europe, it is no surprise that Pep Guardiola is tightening the screws in terms of team selection. While some might think the Spaniard is going a little overboard, there is one man he can’t afford to leave out if City are to have any chance against PSG. That man is Raheem Sterling.
The leg break that Micah Richards suffered in 2011 was, in a sense, a turning point in his career. The victim of an over-zealous challenge from a Portsmouth player, and with his Manchester City career on hold due to a serious knee injury, Richards was forced to take stock of his situation and re-evaluate the path he was taking. While on the sidelines he took the opportunity to travel, and is now a committed vegan. He is also now free from the injury that has plagued him for a few years.
I don’t understand why people doubt Raheem Sterling as a player, because he always comes back with a great performance that reminds us what an exceptional talent he is.
Sure, he can be frustrating when he’s not in form, but he’s already shown his resilience. They know that his head will not fall off when he is in trouble and that his form will return.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday in the Carabao Cup final. It feels like he picked the right moment to show his quality in the 1-0 win over Tottenham – and to show what he can bring to the Manchester City team in the really important games.
Raheem Sterling has won seven major trophies with Manchester City since his move from Liverpool in 2015 – two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and four EFL Cups.
Sterling helped City win their first trophy of the season last weekend and now he could be the key to what really matters – the first Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
He barely played in City’s two quarter-final games against Borussia Dortmund, but I think he should be a starter in France. Here’s why.
What Sterling does seems simple, but it is actually quite unusual
The best players are always scrutinised, but in Sterling’s case many people seem quick to question him and his future at City when he has bad periods.
That happened with his place in the England team for the last World Cup, so at 26 he should be used to it by now – and he doesn’t seem to mind.
In the Carabao Cup final, he responded as always, with a brilliant performance that thrilled everyone.
I was lucky enough to watch Sterling from the sidelines on Sunday, and in a virtually empty Wembley where the pitch seemed really big, he was absolutely relentless.
Raheem Sterling fouls Serge Aurier for the penalty that led to City’s win over Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.
He threw himself at his defenders at every opportunity, ran around and, along with Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez, was a nightmare to stop.
It is so hard to guess City manager Pep Guardiola and his plans for PSG, but I would start with the same three strikers. They have everything you need – pace, agility and control – and they also fit the team’s style of play.
As always, Guardiola’s problem will be who he keeps behind him. You could suggest Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, or one of the midfielders if he wants to use a false nine.
If Jesus is chosen to replace him, I’m sure he’ll work very hard, but in City’s current system I think there’s more potential to hurt PSG with that trio playing constantly and running at the defence.
Of course Pep has faith in him – he loves him
Raheem Sterling scored the winning goal since his goal against Arsenal on 21. February has yet to score a goal in his last 10 appearances for City. He scored a total of 13 goals in all competitions in the 2020-21 season – in 2019-20 he managed 30.
The only thing Sterling is missing at the moment is a goal – since the winning goal against Arsenal on the 21st. He failed to score for his club in February, but in the game against Spurs he was unlucky to fail. He didn’t strike me as a player who lacked confidence in goal area situations.
Against Tottenham he was often moved to the left wing, but he’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen in terms of his ability to run in and know when you’re in the right position and at the right time to score.
That’s his trademark, isn’t it? He is very good at anticipating where the ball will be in the zone and then putting in a little effort to get it.
It sounds simple, but it’s actually quite unusual for him to keep doing it. He may give up a few goals, but he scores many more.
When Sterling was loaned out to Dortmund earlier this month – he played just two minutes in both games – it was seen as a lack of respect or trust on the part of the manager, but that is absurd.
Ruben Diaz (3,793) and Rodri (3,506) are the only Manchester City players to have played more minutes than Sterling in all competitions this season. Since Guardiola took over the team in 2016, he has given Sterling 205 starts. Kevin de Bruyne (190), Fernandinho (180) and Kyle Walker (163) are next on the list.
Since Guardiola joined City in 2016, he has used Sterling more often than any other player in all competitions. And this season, although City have a great rotation in the team, only two players have played more minutes away from home – Ruben Diaz and Rodri.
So of course Pep trusts him – more than that, he loves him and knows how to get the best out of him.
Sterling responded to that confidence on Sunday by helping City to a new trophy – he is now ready to move on.
The key to victory against PSG?
I am confident that City can get past Paris Saint-Germain and reach their first Champions League final, but they have to be very precise defensively.
City have been reliable at the back for most of the season, but in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea we saw that their high defensive line can be crippled by fast counter-attacks.
PSG will try to do the same and they have a lot more quality in house.
Kylian Mbappe limped off in the 87th minute. He was forced off the pitch in the 29th minute of PSG’s win over Metz on Saturday, but is expected to be ready for the game against City at Prince Park.
Kyle Walker’s speed will be crucial against Kylian Mbappé, but ideally City should not be left defenceless in this regard, as that is the only way to hurt PSG.
I still want City to have a midfielder in front of the defence who can attack Mbappé when he goes at them, rather than giving him space to create pace.
If you do that and silence him, City should win. They need to control the game in terms of ball possession and creating chances; they just need to exploit them.
Mika Richards spoke to Chris Bevan from Sport.
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