EPL

Guardiola: Man City achievements not possible without Sterling

By Sports Desk January 15, 2021

Kevin De Bruyne's gesture during the closing stages of Manchester City's Premier League game against Brighton and Hove Albion was one of selflessness towards a team-mate and friend, but also one that backfired.

De Bruyne ceded his penalty-taking duties after drawing a foul from Albion goalkeeper Robert Sanchez in stoppage time at a sodden Etihad Stadium, giving Raheem Sterling the chance to step up.

Unfortunately, the England international ballooned his attempt into the deserted North Stand, leaving Pep Guardiola's side with a few more needlessly nervy minutes to see out a 1-0 win.

A key contributor as City racked up six major trophies in the three previous campaigns under Guardiola, Sterling is yet to fully hit his stride this time around, even as his colleagues in sky blue have moved their collective level through the gears over recent weeks to sit menacingly poised in the Premier League title race.

The Brighton miss means he has scored only three goals in his past 18 appearances in all competitions, a run of four in three either side of the October international break proving to be something of a false dawn.

"He’s an incredibly important player for us," Guardiola said of Sterling ahead of Sunday's meeting with Crystal Palace, which will come as the immediate dust settles on the top-two clash between Manchester United and Liverpool at Anfield.

"Everything we have done in the past, without him would not have been possible."

True as that might be, Sterling relocating his past form would certainly benefit City in an unpredictable season of ample possibilities.

In 2019-20, Sterling enjoyed the most prolific season of his career, scoring 20 goals in the Premier League and 31 overall.

His Premier League haul outperformed an xG of 17.3, coming from 97 shots, although he was even more clinical in those terms the last time City won the Premier League in 2018-19.

In that year of a domestic treble, within 25 in all competitions, Sterling's 17 top-flight goals from 77 attempts had an xG value of 13.7.

This season, he has four Premier League goals and an xG of 3.6. His 29 shots include five unsuccessful efforts from inside the six-yard box.

Close-range misses have become an unwelcome feature in Sterling's game, most gallingly when he blazed over with the goal at his mercy during City's chastening Champions League quarter-final defeat to Lyon in August.

Before last season, the 26-year-old had never dipped below a 50 per cent conversion rate on what Opta rank as "big chances".  He was most efficient in this regard when he scored 18 of 31 (58 per cent) in 2018-19.

That percentage dropped to 39.6 in 2019-20, as he scored 23 big chances and spurned 35. This term, five scored and 13 missed means a further drop to 27.8 per cent within this smaller sample size.

Sterling's overall shot conversion of 14.3 per cent is its lowest since 11.7 per cent in Guardiola's first trophy-less season at City in 2016-17.

So, in a talent stacked squad, should he be fearing for his place? In short, no.

"He will score goals, he will make assists and he wants to help in all departments," Guardiola insisted.

"Normally wingers are not able do that but he can help us. I'm more than happy to have him here with us."

A player holding himself to the high standards Sterling does is unlikely to take any comfort in the old head-tousling adage of "he was there to miss 'em", but there is something to be said for his relentless desire to contribute to the cause, irrespective of where his individual form resides.

Guardiola certainly views him as indispensable. Sterling has played 24 games and completed 1,864 minutes this season, second only to Premier League ever-present Rodri in the City squad.

He has had more shots on target (27) and attempted (88) and completed (41) more dribbles than any other City player. In terms of overall shots (38) and assists (six) he is only bettered by Kevin De Bruyne.

Sterling has created 30 chances for others and, despite his struggles in front of goal, remains joint-second in the squad's goalscoring charts on seven alongside Ferran Torres, one shy of midweek matchwinner Phil Foden.

The former Liverpool youngster's previous goal, when he scored decisively at Southampton in December, made him the first player to reach 150 goal involvements for Guardiola's City.

And, although the Brighton game ended in personal disappointment, his introduction from the bench was his 220th appearance under Guardiola. No player has been selected more frequently by the Catalan tactician in his celebrated career, with a certain Lionel Messi second on that list.

It is that overall big picture of absolute trust and an unquenchable thirst to contribute to the wider cause that means Sterling will remain one of Guardiola's most trusted performers, even if his dry spell goes on a little longer.

Related items

  • Dort matches Durant and Westbrook as Thunder roll past Spurs Dort matches Durant and Westbrook as Thunder roll past Spurs

    Luguentz Dort finds himself in illustrious company after his game-winning shot lifted the Oklahoma City Thunder to victory over the San Antonio Spurs. 

    With the game tied at 99-99, Dort received the ball in the corner and successfully drained a three-pointer, sealing the win in dramatic fashion before falling to the court as he was mobbed by team-mates. 

    The 21-year-old is just the third player in franchise history to hit a game-winning attempt from beyond the arc as time expired. The others? Kevin Durant (twice) and Russell Westbrook (three times).

    "It felt good when it left my hand," said Dort. "I was just staring at the ball and when it dropped in, I dropped too."

    Having gone undrafted in 2019, Dort joined the Thunder initially on a two-way contract. He featured in 36 games last season, averaging 6.8 points per game while shooting 29.7 per cent from deep, building a reputation for his defensive abilities. 

    However, he has had a larger role on offense in his second campaign in the NBA, nearly doubling his output in terms of points per game (12.5) while improving to 31.8 per cent from three-point range. 

    "Lu's changed it around, obviously, changed the narrative," Thunder team-mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said after the Spurs game.  

    "It's just him working hard, not getting down on himself, being confident. When you work hard, confidence comes with it because you believe in yourself." 

    Gilgeous-Alexander also excelled against San Antonio, setting a new career high for points as he contributed 42 to Oklahoma City's cause. 

    "I just wanted to be aggressive, try to put the defense on their heels, and from there, make the right play," said Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 21 points alone in the third period.

    Dort's clinching shot lifted him to 16 points, while Al Horford also managed the same.

    Dejounte Murray had 27 in a losing cause for the Spurs, who were beaten for just the fourth time in 13 games on the road this season. 

  • Mbappe contract decision coming soon, say PSG Mbappe contract decision coming soon, say PSG

    Paris Saint-Germain are getting close to a decision over a new deal for Kylian Mbappe, the club's sporting director Leonardo has revealed.

    The Frenchman, who has scored 90 goals in just 100 appearances for PSG since arriving from Monaco in 2017, will be one year out from the expiry of his contract when the current season comes to a close.

    As such, in the event that new terms cannot be agreed, PSG would need to sanction a transfer this close-season if they are to avoid losing Mbappe for free.

    However, Leonardo remains relaxed about ongoing discussions, even if he admitted that a conclusion will need to be reached soon.

    "On Kylian Mbappe's contract, we've been talking for a long time," the Brazilian told France Bleu.

    "Before, it was mainly to be clear about our position and what we want. There, I think we are getting to the point where we must take a position and a decision.

    "We have a good opening of dialogue."

    Like Mbappe, Neymar is also less than 18 months out from the expiry of his deal with the French champions.

    Leonardo is keen to find a resolution on that front, too, and hopes to find an agreement with Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat over new terms.

    He added: "Neymar, it is on the right track, but in the end, he decides after the signing and it is not yet the case.

    "We arrive at the right time I think, same thing for Di Maria and Bernat. These are the four issues we are discussing. 

    "The idea is to get there as quickly as possible, because on our side, we have the intention to renew all four."

    Ligue 1 winners in seven of the last eight seasons, PSG currently sit in third place, four points off the pace set by leaders Lille and a point behind second-placed Lyon.

    On the thrilling race that awaits, Leonardo said: "We will surely have an exciting end to the season. 

    "Paris is one of the favorites to win the title: we are not going to say that we do not think of winning and that we do not feel in the conditions to do so. 

    "After, if we look at the last days, Lyon, Lille and Monaco have a very important winning streak. But the ambition and the objectives remain the same."

  • LeBron and Lakers dealing with 'tough stretch' as Jazz set NBA record LeBron and Lakers dealing with 'tough stretch' as Jazz set NBA record

    LeBron James called on the depleted Los Angeles Lakers to remain confident despite suffering a fourth straight loss, this time against an in-form Utah Jazz team who set an NBA record. 

    The Jazz hit 22 three-pointers as they shot 46 per cent from deep in a resounding 114-89 triumph on Wednesday, in the process improving to 26-5 for the season.

    While Utah lead the way in the Western Conference, the Lakers are suffering a dip that has coincided with the absences of key duo Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder through injury.

    James acknowledged it is a "tough stretch" for the reigning champions, though even with the poor recent run they still boast a 22-11 record.

    "It's challenging for all of us, especially some of our young guys and some of our guys who haven't been in the position before where they need to do a little bit more than what they are asked to in a normal situation," James said. 

    "Everyone is speaking about AD [Davis], and that's obviously a big hit, but we also haven't had Dennis down this stretch too. He's a big piece of our puzzle as well.  

    "But it's always about staying confident, continuing to give my team-mates the courage and confidence out there on the floor, and make plays. 

    "It's a tough stretch for us, but this won't define who we will be for the rest of the season."

    As for the Jazz, they are the first team in NBA history to make 50 threes over a two-game span, having finished with a franchise-record 28 in a blowout triumph over the Charlotte Hornets.

    They have now won 14 straight home games by double digits, the second-longest streak posted in the NBA, behind only the Phoenix Suns (15) in the 1989-90 season.

    "They came back with the same roster, but what I noticed, more than anything, is that those guys are fully healthy," James told the media.

    "Mike Conley is back to himself; you can see that with the way he's moving on the floor and it's trickled down to everyone else. They are playing some really good ball and are a really good team."

    Rudy Gobert did not attempt a three but still contributed 18 points, as well as nine rebounds. Conley, meanwhile, landed four of his six attempts from beyond the arc, as well as eight rebounds and eight assists.

    "It's all about getting better," Gobert said. "We did a great job sharing the ball offensively. When we defend and we share the ball, it's hard to beat us."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.