Thrive Off Criticism, Silence the Critics: Raheem Sterling and a Pending Manchester City Resurgence

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola hasn't started Raheem Sterling since his side's 1-0 defeat away at Tottenham in August, but a home clash against Southampton could be the perfect chance to unleash the England international.
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"There's a lot of reasons why I haven't scored for my club, and that's totally irrelevant now. I'm here with England, I'm enjoying my football. That's the most important thing."

Make of that what you will, but these words from Raheem Sterling after his winner in England's 1-0 win over Croatia at the European Championships earlier in the summer had a deeper meaning hidden beneath them.

The winger, who managed to register 14 goals and 12 assists in 49 outings across all competitions last season despite being a squad player for the business end of the campaign, was the main man once more, as he proved to be England's talisman on their journey to the knock-out stages.

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Since Pep Guardiola's arrival at the Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2016, Raheem Sterling has been Manchester City's best and most consistent outfield player alongside Kevin De Bruyne, with insane numbers to show for it.

Such is the importance of Sterling, and the subsequent quality of his game, that the winger became only the third player to have bagged 100+ club goals under Pep Guardiola - the other two being Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero.

Then why, after four astonishing seasons, both individually and collectively, is Raheem Sterling not starting for Manchester City consistently?

While it was Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez who kept him out of the starting XI during the second half of the 2020/21 season, it could be argued that Jack Grealish's arrival to the club, Ferran Torres' positional change, and Gabriel Jesus' resurgence have all affected the former Liverpool star's minutes for City.

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After failing to influence proceedings against Tottenham on the opening day of the Premier League last season, Raheem Sterling has been named on the bench in four successive games.

It was reported during the summer transfer window that Sterling was open to an exit from the club, but the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that few clubs were able to get anywhere near Manchester City's valuation of the 26-year-old.

City are understandably keen to tie down one of their most influential players to a long-term contract, but it remains to be seen what the future holds for the attacker, who is in the prime of his career.

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Despite not being named in the starting XI during Manchester City’s run to the Champions League final last season, Sterling was handed a start against Chelsea in Porto by Guardiola - who may have his differences with the winger, but knows that it has so often been the boy from Brent who has done the damage in crunch games for the Catalan boss at City.

Against a Southampton side who have made an underwhelming start to the season, Raheem Sterling could make the difference as Pep Guardiola looks to shuffle his pack ahead of crucial away trips to both Chelsea and PSG in the coming weeks.

After the most indifferent period in his Manchester City career, amidst which he has shone for his country, Sterling could get back to enjoying his football for his club against one of his favourite opponents.

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Make no mistake, Raheem Sterling is one of City’s most important players, and though the Sky Blues have survived without him so far this season, there will always come a point in the next nine months when Sterling will secure the points for the Premier League champions.

After losing his spot in the club's leadership group, the attacker will have an added bit of motivation to once again prove any and all of his doubters wrong by doing his talking on the pitch, as he has done since the start of his trophy-laden career.

He may not be one of the most popular figures among the club’s fanbase for whatever reason, but there will always come a point when City will turn to Sterling to get them over the line - as they have done on so many occasions during his time at the club.

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Sterling has dealt with the incredible competition for places throughout his time in Manchester. Despite the arrivals of Leroy Sané, Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres in attack, the winger managed to keep hold of his place in the front three until the turn of the year - which is testament to his versatility and above all, his mentality to be the main man.

The Liverpool academy graduate has grown to be a man who is constantly fighting, on and off the pitch, for club and country. He's registered an impressive 115 goals and 89 assists in 297 outings across all competitions for City since 2015.

Why then, does he have to come under some rather harsh criticism for a poor spell of form?

When you're representing a side where the stakes are as high as they are at Manchester City, you will come under the microscope if you're not playing to the best of your ability.

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That's one of the problems in modern-day football. When a player has been performing on such a high level for so long, any sort of dip in form is met with huge and frankly, unwarranted criticism. However, the best and most elite group of players, including Sterling, thrive off of criticism, in an attempt to silence their critics.

With Guardiola stating that he has complete faith in Sterling ahead of Saturday’s tie, the three-time Premier League winner has to lay down an important marker if he is chosen to start. Moreover, with the return of Kevin De Bruyne in midfield, the winger will have the tools to cause havoc amongst the Saints backline.

With fans (hopefully) present at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, Sterling will be keen to affect proceedings, and therefore give his manager a selection dilemma for the run of games awaiting his side in the coming weeks.


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