Stick or twist: What next for Man City forward Raheem Sterling?
Posted on May 31, 2022
It was Pep Guardiola's substitutes that ultimately won Manchester City the Premier League title last week. They needed to beat Aston Villa to ensure they pipped Liverpool to top spot, yet with 15 minutes to play, City were 2-0 down to the Villans.
Cue a six-minute comeback that saw City earn a 3-2 win over Steven Gerrard's side to land their fourth Premier League title in their last five years. Ilkay Gundogan netted either side of Rodri's low drive, with Oleksandr Zinchenko teeing up the Spaniard's equaliser after Raheem Sterling had registered the assist for Gundogan's first goal.
In total, only Liverpool (17) had subs directly contribute to more goals than City (16) in the Premier League this season and while they were top of the pile come full time last weekend, City will have a stronger frontline next term following their 2022 business. Julian Alvarez joined from River Plate in January and remainded on loan with the Argentine side following a superb campaign with Los Millonarios.
He hit the headlines when he struck a double hat-trick for River Plate in the Copa Libertadores last week with Alvarez expected to return to the Etihad Stadium this summer. On top of that, City earlier this month confirmed that an agreement was in place with Borussia Dortmund for the capture of goal machine Erling Haaland. Haaland ended an injury-hit Bundesliga campaign with 22 goals and seven assists, a fine return considering he started just 21 of 34 league matches for Dortmund.
Having scored more goals (99) than any other Premier League side this season, City's attack has been upgraded and then some for the 2022/23 campaign. The issue for City now is how to happily accomodate their abundance of forwards. It may yet be that Alvarez is sent back out on loan next season, but his versatility is an added bonus for Guardiola, who demands his attackers interchange with one another.
Alvarez is able to play out wide, and with Haaland a guaranteed starter when fit, even with Guardiola's unpredictability with his team selection, that further limits the number of starting spots for those currently at the club. Gabriel Jesus' expected exit will free up space in the City squad, however it is feasible to suggest that another seeks to leave, especially if Alvarez is integrated into the team this summer.
The question will be who opts to leave the club for, arguably, a less successful side, but is willing to sacrifice silverware for more regular game time. And with Haaland and, potentially, Alvarez on the books, that potentially means a drop in minutes for Raheem Sterling. 20 of 23 league starts came on the right (10) and left (10) this season, though with Foden unlikely to be used so frequently through the middle, that may limit Sterling's game time further.
With a year left to run on his current deal, Sterling is at a crossroads in his City career. Still only 27 years of age, the England international has plenty to offer potential suitors. Only Kevin De Bruyne (15) scored more goals than Sterling (13) of all City players in the Premier League this season, while only Jesus, De Bruyne (both 8) and Joao Cancelo (7) registered more assists (5).
Despite starting just 23 league games for City, Sterling was still directly involved in a Premier League goal every 118.2 minutes for Guardiola's side. Perhaps it should have been higher for a team of City's standing, yet given the lack of game time and consistency, it's a respectable return for the player.
Yet that game time is likely to drop for Sterling next season and even with City expected to be battling on four fronts for most of, if not all, of 2022/23, the main issue will be whether or not Sterling is content with a further drop in game time. He undoubtedly has plenty to offer for Guardiola's side, with a return of 1.8 key passes per 90 the fifth best for the champions, this despite the abundance of creative talent at the Etihad.
In addition, no player completed more dribbles per 90 than Sterling (2.2) of all City players, so he remains a hugely effective attacking threat for Guardiola's side, even with his struggles for game time. Understandably, high profile Premier League sides are keeping tabs on any developments with Sterling's future in Manchester very much up in the air.
What'll be weighing on his next decision, though, is whether he'll want to trade in the opportunity to land more winners' medals with City or earn more minutes in the coming campaign. There is a possibility that interested teams, such as Chelsea and Tottenham, won't be competing in the same vain as City, but at this stage of his career, chances are he'll want to feature more frequently rather than sit on the bench as he nears the peak of his playing career. Take Coutinho for example, he could have accepted a peripheral role with Barcelona, which in turn boosted his chances of trophies, but instead departed for Aston Villa in January. It took the Brazilian just seven appearances to better his La Liga minutes return from the first half of campaign and it was clear he enjoyed his football more in a side that appreciated his qualities more than with the Blaugrana, where Coutinho was criticised more than he was praised.
Sterling may have taken one look at the benefit that came with regular football over playing rarely for a team challenging for silverware and having registered just 2127 minutes of action, his second lowest return in a Premier League season with City, a change in scenery might just be best for the player.
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