It seems to be a case of history repeating itself for Raheem Sterling at Manchester City. He’s finding his game time limited again under Pep Guardiola, and after the extraordinary summer the England winger had at Euro 2020, no one can quite fathom why he remains to be kept on the substitutes bench.
There is a great sense of déjà vu with the 26-year-old who is already finding his minutes reserved for the Premier League champions so far this season. He was given the start in the season opener against Tottenham Hotspur where they were defeated 1-0 and Sterling hasn’t started a game in the league since. His spot in the front three has now been filled by £100million signing, and fellow England international Jack Grealish as the former Aston Villa man played a deeper midfield role against Spurs but has been pushed up to take the left-wing spot with the emergence of Bernardo Silva back in the midfield. This could be the reason Guardiola has decided to freeze Sterling out in recent weeks, but the fact is, over the course of the summer, the player proved why he should be starting.
This is where a lot of praise must go to Gareth Southgate. The Three Lions boss worked a short-term miracle with a player who had personally just come off the back of a disappointing season and appeared to be a shadow of the player that could be seen lighting up English football. With a quick turnaround he had Sterling not only stealing the spotlight for England, becoming their most consistent performer in the process, but you could see he was enjoying his football again. But it appears that the hard work that the duo put in over that sensational summer that united the nation has been in vain. With Sterling returning to the club full of confidence and wanting to make amends for his bad run of form last season, it is quite poor management from Guardiola to drop him after just one league start. This will drop his confidence which will impact the effect he can have on matches when he comes on from the bench.
The whole of Europe witnessed Raheem Sterling at full throttle over the course of the Euros, and the quality he presented over the course of the tournament should not be undone with his return to City. Southgate, as well as the player will not be impressed with the way Guardiola has handled the player’s return to domestic action. Following the form that Sterling had been in at the Euros, he was one of the top players to watch heading into the new campaign and he has already appeared to be cast aside. The Tottenham defeat may have been unexpected, but Spurs went on to keep three clean sheets as they won their first three opening fixtures, which would make it unfair for the City boss to blame and punish Sterling for the disappointing result.
There has always been a vicious cycle with Sterling at the Etihad Stadium. He’s either in red-hot form, or he fails to make an impact, which was sadly the case last season. However, the cause for his interchanging form will not just be down to him, but his tinkering manager. The Spaniard is renowned for making frequent tweaks to his City lineups, most famously in last year’s UEFA Champions League final where he opted for no defensive midfielders and did not start a single striker. The constant changing of personnel week by week is always going to have an impact on a player’s performance and it seems that Sterling has become a victim of Guardiola’s own overthinking issue. City travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Saturday in a huge fixture for what is shaping up to be a thrilling title race, and Sterling will be hoping he can push for a start to get his season up and running.
The coming weeks may show us how Sterling can react to another setback, but if he remains to be side-lined by his manager, he may have to evaluate his future at the club because a player of his quality should not be subjected to cameo appearances off the bench.
Manchester City are priced at 7/4 to beat Chelsea through Betfred.