MANCHESTER, English – This says a lot about Raheem Sterlingstanding currently on Manchester City then when Pep Guardiola chose a reserve team to play for Leeds United, he’s in it. And if that is an opportunity for Sterling to show he must play a more prominent role in City’s hunt for the quadruple, the England winger is unlikely to feel he has been the most successful.
It’s not Sterling’s fault City were shocked 2-1 by Leeds at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday – far from it – but there was a bit of work that afternoon suggesting he should be on the team to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarter-finals, second leg, on Wednesday.
The home team played against 10 men for more than 45 minutes after that Liam Cooper kicked out for a heinous knee-high challenge Gabriel JesusHowever, Sterling and his team-mates were unable to take advantage of the extra space and in the end, it was Leeds who were out to celebrate when Stuart Dallas ran through the extra time to score his second goal of the game.
Their victory was achieved with 29% possession of the ball and two shots on target.
In terms of City’s ambitions this season, a second defeat of their last 29 games will not change much of the Premier League title goals, but it could affect Sterling’s prospects of being front and center in the team when the stakes are higher. Before April ends, City against Dortmund in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final, Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinals and Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final.
“We played a very good match,” said Guardiola. “The goal we gave them, at the back, we were solid and made mistakes on the counter-attack. We didn’t control it. In the last 10 minutes they had another chance, they were fast and could do it. When they stay in the way they are, you have to stop. they run and we don’t do that.
“What happens when you lose a game, you realize how difficult it is what we have done so far. When Liverpool losing a game at Anfield after two or three or four years you realize how hard they have been. Now we have to do it again.
“The next four games, three like the final – the Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup. We have confidence in the game. Sometimes losing is needed to understand how difficult what we’ve done.”
Guardiola chose to rest his main men against Leeds, together Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Kyle Walker and Ilkay Gundogan all are mentioned among his successors. Sterling, meanwhile, has just started his first league start since that defeat Manchester United a month ago. Asked ahead of the match why Sterling started only one of the last six games in all competitions, Guardiola’s answer was simple: Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden be in better shape.
“At the moment, I decide because I see Riyad and Phil in excellent form, extraordinary, extraordinary,” Guardiola told his pre-match press conference. “It’s the only reason why, nothing else. Him [Sterling] important for the team and the club, there’s no doubt about that. That’s the reason for choosing it. “
It wasn’t that long ago when Sterling became the first name on Guardiola’s team list, but not anymore. Without a club goal since February, he looks lacking in confidence and there was a moment 10 minutes from time on Saturday that summed it up. With City pushing for a goal, Sterling took the ball in his own pocket and ran towards the Leeds defense. He had options left and right, but when the time came to pass or shoot, he seemed unsure of what to do, and the movement came to a halt.
One arrow into the box and one shot into Illan Meslier the first half was met with shouts of “brilliant, Raz” from substitute City, but it proved to be the extent to which he posed a threat to Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
The clinical edge that helped Sterling score 79 goals in the three seasons between 2017 and 2020 appears to be temporarily missing. Last season he scored 31 goals in 52 games. This season, 13 of 40.
“We didn’t create enough forwards, that’s part of the game,” said Guardiola. “The best moments we had in the game we made mistakes at the back, and we tried but couldn’t score. We will rest and prepare two days for the game in Dortmund and decide how we will play.”
City could have as many as 13 games to play in the last seven weeks of the season, and Guardiola will need his entire squad. But with titles already wrapped, few really matter. and for that, Guardiola will need his best team. At the moment, that doesn’t include Sterling.