Sterling’s value may have tumbled in recent months, but it is on the rise at Manchester City.
Raheem Sterling’s importance to City is growing under Pep Guardiola after an inconsistent first season and traumatic Euros.
Guardiola is remoulding the England star into a more potent force and he has had 128 touches in the opposition box – more than any other Premier League player .
Sterling, who turned 22 earlier this month, took his tally to six goals and three assists with his winner against Arsenal and Guardiola feels he is bang in form.
The City boss believes his next target is to be more consistent, which he claims will come with experience.
“In the last game against Arsenal, he came back to the level he started the season at,” he said.
“The last month-and-a-half, he was a little bit down. But you can forget again how young he is and he needs to live a lot of experience to become more stable.
“But in general, his performance was high and we need this guy for one against one.
“Of course, he is not our top scorer, but he has to feel how beautiful it is to score goals, how important it is for the team, but for him as well.
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“He scored a beautiful goal in the last game and he gave us a lot, especially during the first month-and-a-half. He was our key, key player in front and of course we need him.”
Guardiola understands Sterling’s main weapon is running at opponents – as he did for his fine effort against Arsenal – and wants to get him on the ball more.
Yet he knows he must also give the pacy forward the freedom to drift out wide, where he can isolate full-backs, as well as drive down the middle.
“Yeah, he can play more narrow, he can do that,” he said. “Sometimes I say to him ‘you need to play wide, wide, wide and stay there and make action one against ones’.
“When he does that, it’s difficult for him to get into the box, but for example the first goal of they season, I think it was against Sunderland. He played wide like a winger, but he arrived on the penalty spot to win our penalty.
“I think the strikers and the wingers they have to move how they feel, especially in the last metres.”
Guardiola is encouraging Sterling to take time on the ball, whereas Manuel Pellegrini wanted him to have just one or two touches.
The difference is clear and Sterling is having more of an influence on games under Guardiola and according to data supplied by EA Sports he has enjoyed more successful dribbles this season than any other Premier League player.
A City insider explained: “Raheem has come on so much this season because he has a better understanding of what’s expected of him.
“At times last season he was asked by old boss Manuel Pellegrini to play one and two touch football. That wasn’t his natural game and now Pep is encouraging him to get on the ball more.
“You can see the impact he’s having in those stats for the season so far and his confidence is growing.
“You don’t see Raheem as a traditional dribbler, but get him on the ball and he can run at pace at opponents and cause all sorts of havoc. He’s still a work in progress, but he’s getting better.”