The 26-year-old now enjoys undisputed prominence at international level with England but his role at Manchester City under Guardiola appears to be more uncertain than ever
Raheem Sterling could make his 500 th senior appearance of his career this month – a landmark which illustrates the forward’s longevity at the top level.
Having made his senior debuts for both Liverpool and England aged just 17, Sterling has been a virtual ever-present at the top level of English football for almost a decade.
The forward has been fortunate enough to remain injury-free throughout his career and if he maintains this run in the years to come, it is not entirely unfeasible that he breaks through the 1,000-game barrier.
Now aged 26, Sterling has blossomed under Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola from an extremely raw yet talented attacker into a well-rounded goal machine.
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He has bagged an impressive 156 goals throughout his career, of which 110 have come for club and country since the start of the 2017-18 campaign – when Guardiola’s influence began to truly take an impact.
Having netted just twice in his first 43 caps for England, he has subsequently scored 16 goals in the following 27 internationals – including three in his nation’s run to the Euro 2020 final.
Southgate said this week: “I do think he doesn’t really get the recognition he deserves. He often goes under the radar and almost seems to have to continually prove himself.”
Roy Keane added on ITV Sport: “There’s no doubt, it’s not even up for debate [Sterling starting for England] where Sterling stands, obviously the stats back it up, he’s fantastic.”
While Sterling has nailed down his place in Gareth Southgate’s side, his recent club fortunes have not been so positive.
His goal output for City last season (14) was less than half of the 2019/20 campaign (31) and his undisputed starting role in Guardiola’s attack is no longer the case.
The arrival of Ferran Torres, form of Riyad Mahred and enhanced prominence of Phil Foden has lessened Sterling’s prominence – he has not started for City since the opening day defeat at Tottenham, although he did score from the bench against Norwich.
Sterling did not start any of City’s four Champions League knockout games against Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain last season, and while he was started in the final – he was withdrawn in the 77 th minute with Guardiola’s side chasing an equaliser.
The former Liverpool forward has a defined role at international level – he is the perfect attacking foil to Harry Kane, allowing him to offer a significant goal threat of his own and find space alongside the Tottenham captain.
City’s summer-long pursuit of Kane may have afforded Sterling a similar role under Guardiola but a report in The Athletic claims that the England international was one of five City players offered to Spurs in a part-exchange deal, along with Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Riyad Mahrez.
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Sterling’s role at City without the deployment of a centralised striker – his decline in form was coupled with Sergio Aguero’s lack of game-time – has lessened and now appears to lack certainty.
Guardiola’s fluid attacking system places more emphasis on the wide forwards delivering a goal output without a central striker and Sterling appears to be the fall guy in that system.
This was demonstrated in last season’s Champions League when the England international found the net just once in 11 appearances.
With Gabriel Jesus not available for this week’s trip to Leicester City and a challenging run of games coming up for the Premier League champions, Sterling now has the ideal opportunity to re-establish his position in the line-up.
Guardiola’s coaching approach has propelled the forward to a higher status but Sterling’s role at club level appears to be in jeopardy despite his international excellence.