Many a pundit and fan has cast Raheem Sterling, Manchester City’s £49 million man, as this season’s pantomime villain in the Premier League. Sterling’s demand of a move away from Liverpool, which is historically a more successful club than City and his schemes to force the move, made Sterling’s transfer one of the most-controversial in recent memory. Yet in all of the discussion of the deal for the 20 year-old, the voices describing his potential positive impact on the Blues efforts to regain the Premier League title were ignored.
A narrative has developed around Sterling as a greedy young player who is indicative of what is wrong in soccer. With the season already started, Manchester City has exploded out of the gates with two successive 3-0 victories. However, the microanalysis of Sterling’s play from some quarters has been off-the-mark. We’ve read that he is a bad finisher and has added little to the Blues attack.While his finishing has been poor, his impact on City’s success after two matches cannot be understated.
Much of the discussion around Manchester City’s start, including Sunday’s 3-0 thumping of defending champion Chelsea, has revolved around the creativity of David Silva and the revival of Yaya Toure. Both of these players have contributed mightily to the Blues cause but much of the impact both have made has come down to Sterling’s presence on the pitch.
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Sterling’s ability to make runs and pull players out of position has cleared space for Silva, giving the diminutive Spaniard another outlet with which to play diagonal balls in attacking areas. Two seasons ago, when City won the title playing a 4-4-2, Silva struck up a great partnership with compatriot Alvaro Negredo, whose movement was excellent. Last season, the Blues missed that whether playing in a 4-4-2 with a second striker playing alongside Sergio Aguero, or in a 4-5-1 with Samir Nasri or Frank Lampard flanking Silva in attacking parts of the pitch. Sterling’s movement has also created space for Toure sitting in the center of midfield.
Another clear beneficiary of Sterling’s presence has been Aleksandar Kolarov whose marauding runs down the left flank for the Blues has been the greatest change to the City attack thus far this season. Kolarov, now in his sixth season with the club, has often been criticized for being a shaky defender but his work product going forward has never been in question. Few players in English football have as strong a left foot or can deliver as accurate a cross from wide areas as the Serbian international.