Raheem Sterling broke a lengthy scoring drought for England with a masterclass against Spain, silencing his critics and once again showing why the expectations for him are so high.
If there’s a better way to silence your critics, someone better tell Raheem Sterling. What a performance he put in for England during their 3-2 win against Spain on Monday.
He’s copped a lot of flack over the past year, mainly over his performances for the Three Lions during the World Cup, but Sterling showed against Spain why he is still easily England’s most exciting young player.
It really is frightening to think that this is a player who scored 18 Premier League goals as a winger last season as Manchester City won England’s top division, and now it looks like he’s reproducing that form on the international stage in games that count. Ok, so we’re not all sold on the Nations League yet, but still.
When Sterling was at Liverpool, ‘raw’ was a pretty apt description of his abilities. While he showed his brilliance in flashes, there were plenty of occasions to suggest his decision making was less than desirable. Having learned from Pep Guardiola, Sterling now has a killer eye in front of goal and is a noticeably more intelligent footballer than he was a few years ago.
Take his first goal against Spain, for example. The 23-year-old knew the quality of Harry Kane’s hold-up play and was on his bike running in behind Spain’s defence so decisively that viewers knew he would score long before he had taken his first touch, and it was by no means a trademark Sterling goal.
Plenty of the forward’s goals for City have come from arriving in the right spot at the right time to capitalize on sublime work from Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva. But this time, he showed the instinct of a striker to trust his partner, knowing he would be in goal if the right pass was delivered.
And the finish. Oh, the finish, it brings tears of joy to the eyes just thinking about the finish. Make no mistake, England were under plenty of pressure to deliver on Monday, with naysayers justifiably stating the side were lucky to reach the World Cup semifinals. After the Spain defeat at Wembley and the goalless draw in Croatia, it was beginning to feel like England’s exciting youngsters may not actually be able to make that step up to actually beat what many consider to be the world’s best team.
But Raheem Sterling’s finish past David de Gea epitomized everything that England fans currently love about the team. It was confident, assured, and exciting to watch. Put simply, he stuck it top bins. It was good. The neutral enjoyed it.
It’s easy to forget how young Sterling is, and yet he’s one of England’s most important players, a regular in their team, a hardworking, breathtakingly skilled winger with an incredible footballing brain not noticed and hailed regularly enough.
His performance against Spain showed how ruthless he can and should be for England. We should rightfully be excited about young players like James Maddison, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount coming into the latest squad and shaking things up, but we should not take Sterling for granted.
Sterling is still the jewel in England’s crown, alongside that fellow who plays for Tottenham, and his ability should not be forgotten or dismissed. After all, any success Gareth Southgate hopes to achieve during his time with the Three Lions may ultimately depend on the youngsters' brilliant footballing brains.