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Pep backs Raheem Sterling, but forward must continue to improve

Raheem Sterling has received the full backing from Pep Guardiola this week, but the England forward still has much to improve to be considered as one of the best.

Sterling was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of England’s successful World Cup run this summer. Gareth Southgate saw fit to start the Manchester City forward in six out of England’s seven games they played in Russia, which was understandable given the 23-year-old’s potent scoring campaign for his club in the 17/18 campaign.

Sterling, however, did not continue his goalscoring form with England in the summer. He failed to convert at all, and some of his average performances were particularly honed in on by fans. Several ex-professionals leapt to the former Liverpool player’s defence, with the likes of Ian Wright and David Beckham urging viewers to not so much focus on the forward’s lack  of goals, but instead appreciate Sterling’s work off the ball, his sprints that pull defenders out of position and allow space to open up for his team-mates.

It is hard to argue that Sterling didn’t offer anything in Russia. But ultimately, Southgate brought him to the World Cup to create chances and score goals, like he had done so frequently for City. Considering this, Sterling failed to deliver, despite how much ex-pros like to staunchly argue the opposite.

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Sterling scored 23 times in all competitions last season; his best return to date. And yet, that number could have been higher were it not for the fact he still isn’t fully convincing with the goal in front of him. He sometimes appears to panic, which leads to a scuffed shot that, were any of his fellow Man City forward players presented with the same opportunity, would have otherwise hit the net.

With Sterling’s exploits last season helping Man City set a new standard for Premier League champions, with records tumbling in their wake, there is ostensibly very little else the manager can ask of the player this time around.

Following City’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon, in which Sterling opened his scoring account for the new season, Pep Guardiola spoke in glowing terms about the Englishman, underlining his desire for the forward to remain in Manchester, with talks over a new deal set to begin soon. Guardiola also spoke of Sterling’s England outings in Russia, speaking highly of his performances despite the lack of goals.

This was a very open and public statement from the manager that he very much admires and appreciates Sterling’s contribution, and would like his current deal, which expires in 2020, to be extended further.

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It is not the first time Guardiola’s admiration for Sterling has emerged. Sterling revealed shortly after England’s disastrous Euro 2016, of which he was a part, that Guardiola had texted him during the tournament in France, offering his backing and stating he is very much in his plans for the upcoming season.

But even given the manager’s unwavering support and praise, even despite Sterling’s 23 goals last year – with 18 of those coming in the Premier League – it is plain to see that his game requires further development when it comes to finishing chances. Clearly, with Guardiola openly keen on Sterling signing a new contract, there are no issues to address with the player as far as the board and the manager are concerned.

But for City to retain the title, and do to so with as much flair and extravagance as they managed last season, Sterling will need to repeat his form, and even take it further than last time. Teams will start to figure this side out, and players like Sterling will suffer the most for it, with defenders being coached and ordered to snuff him out, disarm him by denying space and be more aggressive.

Guardiola has faith in Sterling. He must repay the faith, and the trust put in him, by helping City to march their way to the top again. To do that, the goals must come again. But if Sterling is determined to improve further and does indeed seek that new contract, then that won’t be something Guardiola and the fans will have to worry about.

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