Raheem Sterling's 'weird' Man City season has stuttered again

Raheem Sterling’s ‘weird’ Man City season stuttered again after being benched at Villa… his nine-game goalless run coincides with Phil Foden hitting new heights as Jamie Redknapp claims he has ‘fallen out’ with Pep Guardiola before Carabao Cup final

  • Raheem Sterling has not featured in three of Man City’s last five league games
  • The last goal the England international scored for his club came on February 21 
  • Only Kevin De Bruyne has more goal involvements than Phil Foden this season 
  • Now with silverware on offer for the first time this term, Sterling is up against it 

Raheem Sterling was by no means the only player to underperform as Manchester City crashed out of the FA Cup last weekend at the hands of Chelsea, but his below-par display certainly drew the most criticism after their quadruple hopes ended.

But such was the nature of his performance at Wembley that the England international was an unused substitute in City’s 2-1 victory at Aston Villa on Wednesday, the third time he has failed to get on the pitch in the league in the last five games.

And now with another Wembley showdown beckoning for Pep Guardiola’s men against Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, the question marks that appeared to have been eradicated last season with his prolific return in terms of goals and assists look to be somewhat resurfacing.

Raheem Sterling has largely figured as a substitute for Manchester City in recent weeks

The England star was left on the bench again by Pep Guardiola for the win at Aston Villa

Jamie Redknapp claimed this week Sterling has fallen out with boss Guardiola after being shunned yet again at Villa Park, while the 26-year-old admitted earlier this month this season has been ‘very weird’ for him.

But with Phil Foden now emerging as first choice and Sterling well behind his goalscoring rate of previous seasons, and even being linked with a move to Real Madrid this summer, Sportsmail examines where it has gone wrong.

‘Don’t get me wrong, this season for me personally has been a very weird one,’ Sterling told BT Sport earlier this month.

Jamie Redknapp claimed this week Sterling may have fallen out with the Catalan boss

‘But nevertheless I’m still enjoying my football and giving my all to the team. Yeah don’t get me wrong, if I don’t score or do something to help the team I’m not happy coming off the field.’

Perhaps subconsciously, the crux of Sterling’s issues in recent weeks was highlighted by the player himself but wrapped up among feelings of weirdness and discontent about how the season has played out.   

Sterling is currently on a nine-game goalless rut for City, a run stretching back more than two months to February 21 when he scored inside the opening two minutes with a header for the winner at Arsenal.

And that poor run of form in front of goal has notably seen his return take a hit. After scoring 18, 17 and 20 Premier League goals respectively in each season since the 2017-18 campaign, Sterling currently sits on nine goals this term, with just five matches of the league season remaining.

His goal tally across all competitions this term is also well short of recent achievements, with his current total of 13 not threatening his previous efforts of 23, 25 and 31 in the last three seasons.

Sterling has been replaced as a regular in the starting XI by fellow England star Phil Foden

The 26-year-old has also not completed the full 90 minutes in a game City have won since beating Wolves handsomely in early March, with his last two top-flight games in which he has started and finished the game ending in home defeats by Manchester United and Leeds.

And that is perhaps why the defeat by Chelsea last weekend hurt a tad more for him in comparison to many of his other stars.

Given a full 90 minutes to impress and reclaim his spot from Foden, Sterling misfired in an insipid attacking display from City, firing both of his shots on goal off target, including a wild swipe over the bar when well placed late on. 

He also completed 32 of the 35 passes he attempted in the FA Cup semi-final, but overhit passes and taking too many touches scuppered his chances of impacting any part of the game. 

Those full 90 minutes have been a rarity for Sterling too in recent weeks. Of City’s last eight Premier League games since the win at the Emirates Stadium, Sterling has started just three and sat on the bench for just as many.

He was left on the bench for three top-flight games too last season, but they were for games that took place in September, January and June respectively.

Sterling last scored for City with a winning header against Arsenal on February 21 in London

Sterling’s recent appearances as an unused substitute of late have been rather more frequent, with four in the Premier League already this calendar year and one each in the Champions League and FA Cup, while he was totally omitted from the squad by Guardiola for the league defeat of Fulham. 

The wide forward has been brought on from the substitutes bench by Guardiola on three occasions in the league this season, as many times as was the case throughout the whole of the previous campaign.  

But with every game taking on even more importance with a treble on the line, Sterling – aside from the Chelsea defeat – has largely found himself out of the picture.

He started on the bench for both of the quarter-final legs against Borussia Dortmund and the visit to top-four chasing Leicester City, and with a final and two-legged semi-final in the next four games, Sterling is facing an uphill battle to reclaim his spot.

But his struggles since were symbolised as he struggled along with City’s attack at Wembley

The City star does not seem to be lacking confidence, still showing for the ball against the Blues and willing to strike at goal last weekend despite his error-strewn display. 

What will be of concern however is the likelihood he will need a run of games to re-discover his form, time Guardiola can ill-afford to hand him in their hunt for a third Premier League crown in four years, a first Champions League title and a fourth straight Carabao Cup win.

Added as an extra layer to Sterling’s woe is that his replacement on the left in the XI, Foden, is in the best form of his nascent City career and a man Guardiola now considers as a ‘serious player’.

Only Kevin De Bruyne with 24 has more goal involvements across all competitions for City this season than Foden, who has scored 14 goals and recorded 9 assists so far this term and looks destined for further success.

Sterling has been an unused substitute for his club on six occasions already this calendar year

He has been brought on from the substitutes bench by Guardiola in three league games so far

And having been the only Man City player who displayed any sort of verve after replacing the injured Belgian at Wembley on Saturday, Foden demonstrated the infectious confidence with which he is playing right now in the West Midlands.

Having sprayed the ball out to the right, he then got on the end of Bernardo Silva’s cross to equalise at Villa, before a delightful piece of control saw him win the corner from which Rodri’s nodded home what would turn out to be the winner.

There was even the audacity to shout at his team-mates, most notably Oleksandr Zinchenko, for not cutting the ball back to him and choosing other options, which excellent forwards like Sterling have shown to do in the past. 

Pundits have also been singing the praises of Foden, with Redknapp even claiming the battle for a starting spot between the duo extending to England duty too, where the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka will also provide competition.

Foden’s season continued to go from strength to strength as he inspired the win at Villa

‘He (Foden) is almost in competition with his mate (Sterling) and he (England manager Gareth Southgate) has got to pick one of them with [Marcus] Rashford, and [Harry] Kane is a certainty,’ Redknapp said.

‘If you’re going to play him on that side, Sterling at the moment, something is going on. He’s in and out of the team and seems to have fallen out with Pep.’

Former City defender Micah Richards meanwhile told the BBC after the defeat by Thomas Tuchel’s side: ‘Foden was magical. He seems to get better and better and better. They’re a better team with him in the side.’

Guardiola understandably was less glowing, but stated after beating Villa: ‘He’s growing. He’s making steps forward and his influence on our game is massive right now.

Redknapp believes Foden is also Sterling’s direct competitor for an England starting spot too

‘He is becoming a serious player. The players dictate who they are on the pitch. In the last games especially, he is becoming really important.’

Foden has become so crucial that Sterling, an instrumental figure in City’s back-to-back Premier League titles in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, appears nothing more than a peripheral figure right now at the Etihad Stadium. 

Sterling – who has two years left on his City deal – has started and played the full compliment of minutes in two of City’s four League Cup fixtures this season. 

Sterling was key in back-to-back title wins but now resembles a peripheral figure at City

But ahead of the final at Wembley on Sunday – the first time major silverware is available this season – his immediate chances of figuring in key games for City, and potentially England as a result, appear slim.

It is yet unclear what repercussions limited game time may produce in the long-term, but at the moment Sterling is the embodiment of the adage that form is temporary, but class is permanent. 

The problem remains however that City have too much riding on the season to allow Sterling to play his way back into some of the exhilarating form on display last season. 

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