In the summer of 2015, Manchester City had compensated a £49m fee that broke the record for the amount paid for a British footballer; it could be only for a supremely talented future star, that being ex-Liverpool prodigy Raheem Sterling.
The 22-year-old had undertaken a very proficient start to life at City, scoring only three minutes into his City debut in pre-season setting the tone for the coming months. A first career hat-trick and nine goals in all competitions followed before the end of the calendar year.
Raheem was playing down the left flank, structured to a very one-dimensional style of play. The idea being enforced was to take the man down the wing and cross on his weaker foot. He lacked the freedom to be able to play instinctively and acting on what was intrinsically right due to Pelligrini limiting the team to two touch football.
In the latter half of that season, we were provided with a more inefficient player who contributed two goals in all competitions and frustratingly lost his place to the soon to be exiled Jesus Navas.
His poor form culminated at the end of the summer as he was unfairly scapegoated for England’s deterioration at the Euros, a tournament where Sterling wasn’t in his finest hour.
A new season, however, meant a new Raheem and after a phone call with Guardiola before pre-season emphasised his importance and that Guardiola had full trust in the youngster. He was instilled with a newfound confidence approaching the first league game of the season.
Sterling had moved to the right wing whereby he prospered; he was playing with freedom as Pep allowed the players to use their natural ability through instinct in the final third, a strategy that allowed Sterling to thrive.
Within August he had gained Premier League player of the month for bagging a brace of goals and assist in that time, firing out of the blocks as if he had a new lease of life under Guardiola’s helm. This dangerous form advanced to September where Raheem bagged a further two goals to add to his tally for the season.
However, the next couple of months were a different story, his form dropped, and seemingly his confidence followed suit with inconsistency arising from the shadows after being switched around in various positions. This varied from the left wing to a deeper right midfielder in a three at the back, neither in which Sterling flourished.
This disparity from earlier months brought about the scapegoats and doubters of the last year. But, this time it wasn’t getting the better of him, a new found confidence boost paired with the rise in the form of accomplice Leroy Sane, lead to the winger providing an insuppressible task for opponents.
He has racked up a tally of nine goals and eight assists as of now in all competitions, with six of them coming in the Premier League accompanying five assists in comparison to the six premier league goals and two assists of last season. This reflects an apparent rise in the stature of his performances in a sky blue shirt this season.
The form has also been integrated back to international level in England’s recent games whereby Sterling has been providing numerous assists of late for his English companions, proving he has the mental strength to overcome any battle thrown his way, in turn regaining respect from England fans alike.
Statistics don’t lie, and it is clear that Raheem’s leeway in the final third has had a decisive impact on his overall game. He has completed an average of 2.6 dribbles per game comparing to past season’s 1.3 per game, reflective of a self-belief that he has the ability to triumph over the opposition.
As a result of his dribbling, he has enticed opponents to increase a number of times he is fouled, averaging from 1.55 to 2.1 per game, another significant indication that Guardiola’s coaching is paying off for the talented youngster.
There is still the argument that he lacks an end product, which his goals and assists counter. However, he even admitted himself he could have bagged a further few which can only enhance his game, as mentioned in a recent interview with The Guardian.
“It’s terrible. I should be on 15-16 goals right now and that’s what I need to get to the player I want to be.”
The City regular now personifies innovation and creativity, contrary to his situation under Pelligrini’s reign due to a belief that anything possible. Raheem should be a testing winger to any full-back daring enough to attempt to mark him, and it is his fundamental belief that has lead to the vast improvement in his game, which every City fan should want to see.