Tactical Analysis: Just How Important Is Super Raheem Sterling to Manchester City
Raheem Sterling’s outstanding form this season has seen him develop into a truly indispensable member of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Despite the fierce competition for places within City’s richly assembled squad, Sterling’s held his own on his way to registering a personal-record of 23 goals and 17 assists from his 49 matches in all competitions. Second, behind only Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane in City’s goals and assists charts respectively, he’s been a real driving force behind the club’s magnificent campaign.
Manchester City Fixtures
- (A)West Ham United10 Aug
- (H)Tottenham Hotspur17 Aug
- (A)AFC Bournemouth24 Aug
- (H)Brighton & Hove Albion31 Aug
- (A)Norwich City14 Sep
Manchester City Stats
- Points PG0
- Win Percentage0%
- Scored PG0
- Conceded PG0
- Over 2.5 Percentage0%
So familiar with Guardiola’s positional play framework, Sterling is fulfilling his role with the utmost confidence. He’s at the top of his game. Putting all his critics and the unwanted headlines to one side, he’s remained dedicated and focused on his craft, which his seen him improve year-on-year under Guardiola’s stewardship. What will next season hold for Sterling?
A huge part of his development is how much he has improved his general goal-scoring ability. From being in the right places to improving his one-on-one finishing. Sure, he still misses the odd sitter, but the overall improvement in his game really is clear for all to see. He’s more composed and rarely snatches at his chances, whilst scoring goals of all types in this title-winning campaign for Manchester City.
He’s a key cog in a beautiful system and his off the ball movement has been key for Pep’s side. His runs in behind the defence and into the box have been key to him getting in the correct positions to either create or finish Manchester City’s chances.
Thanks to Guardiola’s stewardship, he’s now much better at reading the game, knowing where his opponents are and tailoring his runs accordingly. This awareness allows Sterling to know when to dart towards the front post to latch onto a cutback, hold his run while the defence collapses towards the goal or embark on a back post run. The latter offers plenty of strategic benefits, for it gives him a massive dynamic advantage over his more awkwardly oriented marker, who will typically be standing still and facing towards the ball. This gives Sterling greater momentum when attacking the ball, something that’s seen him frequently beat his man at the back post.
We should note that it also helps when you have multiple wizards on the field providing these balls into the box. I’m looking at you Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva.
Guardiola’s meticulous toiling on the training ground is clearly reaping rewards for Sterling, as the Spanish manager spoke to Sky Sports of how he’s worked “specifically on the last action on the pitch – that control in the last moment to make the right movement in the final three or four meters“.
Keep doing what you’re doing, Pep!
The fluid movements between Sterling and his teammates have been key to his, and others, effectiveness for Manchester City this season. This creates endless problems for opposition defenders, simply trying their best to mark Sterling, Silva, De Bruyne, Aguero and others. Key patterns include interchanging with Aguero, dropping deep or switching positions with a midfielder or fullback. This is all done so cohesively that it can actually look messy at times. However, it’s a beautiful mess.
Predominantly situated on the wing, this is typically where Sterling receives possession. This situation in a game will allow him to use his dribbling skills and athleticism to good effect. Able to progress up the pitch, he torments his adversary with his qualities. This season, City will often overload the opposite flank in order to free up Sterling (or Bernado on the other side) and quickly switch the play. This has been a vital tactic used and has lead to many goals for Manchester City. It leaves Sterling isolated, creates a one-on-one and stretches the back line of the opposition.
Simply put, he’s been a menace with the ball at his feet. He’s incredibly unpredictable and hard to stop courtesy of his nice repertoire of stepovers, shoulder drops, feints and wicked changes of pace. He’s become more direct and relishes driving at defenders.
His creative game is always improving, too. Last season he combined neatly in confined spaces by using nifty flicks, layoffs, and back heels. These cute passages of play are the default when watching Manchester City and Sterling thrives. Quick one-twos allow him to use his pace and intelligence to create something from nothing in and around the box. I believe his 17 assists serve as a testament to his overall intelligence as a footballer and his maturity under Guardiola. Both should be credited hugely.
The Guardiola effect is so clear. Raheem Sterling has been turned into a goal-scoring machine, an incredibly effective attacking threat. Under Guardiola, he’s devastating.
“He is sharp, fast, clever, fighting, ambitious and decisive. He can play both sides and can play in the middle and receive the ball between the lines and commit the center-back with a lot of aggression.” – Pep Guardiola on Raheem Sterling, 2019.
Statistically, it’s been a great season:
- 0.34 XG per game
- 36% conversion rate
- 2.2 shots PG
- 5.71 completed dribbles PG
- 1.7 key passes PG
- 5.22 touches inside the box PG
- 2.14 progressive runs PG
- Fouled 1.81 times PG
Sterling has established himself as one of the elite players in the Premier League and the £49m that Manchester City paid for him looks like superb value for money, and then some!
He’s the PFA Young Player of the Year and there are no signs to suggest that Raheem Sterling’s development will slow down. He can go as far as he likes in the game and with the guidance of Guardiola is improving with every training session. His rich vein of form this season saw City clinch a memorable treble and I’m sure it won’t be the last piece of silverware he helps his side win.