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Raheem Sterling

Premier League Player of the Month, November 2018

Three goals and three assists in three Premier League appearances ensured Raheem Sterling beat teammates David Silva and Leroy Sane, not to mention Andy Robertson, Lucas Digne, Felipe Anderson and Moussa Sissoko, to the title of Player of the Month for November. It’s the second time the Manchester City attacker has picked up the award, making him its 45th multiple winner – he joins a list of two-time winners that includes current Premier League players Cesc Fabregas, Son Heung-min, Eden Hazard, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy.

The 24-year-old has started 13 of City’s 16 Premier League games this season – six on the left of Pep Guardiola’s attacking trio, six on the right and one through the centre, in the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea last weekend. In November, he started in his preferred slot on the right against both West Ham and Southampton – scoring in both games – and on the left in the Manchester derby.

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Either way, his form is excellent. He already has eight goals and six assists to his name in the league this season. Not yet halfway, he looks on track to beat last year’s career best of 18 goals and 11 assists – his combined stats put him behind only Eden Hazard in the division, from two fewer appearances.

Key strengths
Sterling has always been an attacking threat one on one. From his earliest days in the Liverpool first team, he used his fantastic speed and acceleration to beat opponents with ease. Over time, however, defenders began to notice his preference to attack around the outside. Since his arrival at Manchester City, though, the attacker has shown signs of what he can do when cutting back inside and beating his opponent from both directions (below). This has not only given Sterling much more unpredictability about his game, but enabled him to better link with the lone central striker Pep Guardiola traditionally employs.

Over time – and no doubt working with Guardiola on a daily basis has helped – his pressing and ability to effectively counter-press has certainly improved. Under Brendan Rodgers, Sterling was effective at applying pressure due to his speed and acceleration, but limited when it came to ball recoveries. His best season total for interceptions during his time at Anfield was 20, during the title near-miss campaign of 2013/14. Already this season, Sterling has seven successful interceptions in only 13 games.

Furthermore, his increased intelligence when using his body to either win the ball back, or protect and keep it, has certainly given Sterling another dimension to his game. In attack, he is pushed off the ball much less, able to hold off physical defenders while penetrating into the final third. Defensively, this improvement has helped his team collectively win the ball much higher up the pitch, thus maintaining more consistent pressure on opposition back lines.

Of course, Sterling can still frustrate in front of goal. His first goal in the 6-1 mauling of Southampton is a good example of this, with unconvincing technique behind an initially mistimed strike when meeting a Sergio Aguero cross (above). He fared much better at his second attempt, of course, while credit is definitely due to the timing of his movement into the position from which he scored. City score so many goals from low crosses towards the far post, but players such as Sterling and Leroy Sane on the opposite flank have to time their runs to absolute perfection to both meet the ball before the defender and remain onside. Mostly, they do just that.

Tactical analysis
Much of Sterling’s success from the right side comes from his excellent relationship with Kyle Walker at right-back. Walker also possesses tremendous pace with the ball, and the pair’s ever-changing angles of attack give any opposition left-back serious problems. For Man City’s opening goal in the 4-0 drubbing of West Ham, Walker’s driving inside is recognised by Sterling, who then moves to attack from the wide area (below) – a pretty basic principle, but perfectly well-executed as Sterling crossed for David Silva to finish. This isn’t always as regularly successful when Sterling operates on the left, where the now-injured Benjamin Mendy is less predictable than Walker, and Fabian Delph less explosive in his movement – the result is that Sterling isn’t always afforded the same space in which to attack.

For the final 20 minutes of the Manchester derby, Sterling was deployed as the central forward, but his clever movements away from the back line resembled a false-nine approach (below). These movements towards the ball gave Sterling a much better chance of turning and facing the opposition goal, as Manchester United’s centre-backs didn’t want to risk stepping up with him and leaving more space for the City wingers to run in behind.

Moving deeper didn’t just get defenders off his back, however; it also gave him a chance to better showcase his vastly improved decision-making on the ball. Linking with through balls for the wingers, or quick combinations with the likes of David Silva in central midfield, consistently helped maintain the tempo of City’s attacks without necessarily losing too much forward momentum – a two-word phrase that just about sums up the trajectory of Sterling’s career right now.

Raheem Sterling

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