We’ve been here before: on the eve of a major tournament, the debate rages over whether Raheem Sterling deserves his place in the England squad.
Although his record at the international level and in the big games is still impressive, the nature of his team at Chelsea does not give much case for his inclusion with the World Cup just two weeks away.
Sterling has won twice in the Champions League since the start of September but, after failing to fire during Sunday’s defeat by Arsenal, he has now gone 596 minutes without a goal or assist in the Premier League, a run of leave at the end of August. .
It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have a consistent role, either. Whether it’s a wing-back, winger or striker, Blues boss Graham Potter seems unsure of what to get the best out of the 27-year-old, or what his best position is.
“I still rate Raheem a lot but he looks lost,” said former England defender Micah Richards, who watched Sterling against the Gunners for MOTD2.
“It’s like he’s a bit confused about the Chelsea set-up and, tactically, he doesn’t know what they want him to do.”
A big move – then a new manager
Losing out was not the situation Sterling had in mind when he mapped out his £50m move from Manchester City to Stamford Bridge in July.
Sterling was being followed by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich but he was clearly impressed in the view of former manager Thomas Tuchel, and the role he has defined for him in his group.
However, less than two months later, Tuchel was history. Potter is currently planning Chelsea’s future, but his frequent changes in formation and tactics suggest he is unsure of how best to use the many members of his new squad, including Sterling.
“Raheem joined another top club in Chelsea and it seemed like the perfect move for him,” Richards added. But then they changed their manager and we all saw the chaos that followed.
“After a manager signs you and says you’re their main man, like Tuchel did with Sterling, it must be confusing when a new manager comes in and wants to use you differently. .
“Every player just wants to have some stability. I think he’s in good hands with Potter – let’s be clear about that – but it’s up to him to get the best out of Sterling now.”
‘Put Sterling on the ball near the goal’
Sterling has scored 131 goals in 339 appearances for City, while his trademark latest has seen him arrive to complete a sweeping move at the back post.
He hasn’t been very successful since joining Chelsea – perhaps because he gets very few chances in front of goal.
|Man City 2021-22||Chelsea 2022-23|
|40.1||Minutes per shot||56.5|
|49%||Aimed at %||39%|
|175.9||Minutes on purpose||339|
“The reason he was successful at City was because he was part of a working system,” Richards explained. “He knew the system and he fit it because the runs he made were exactly what the team needed.
“City also played in the same way, dominating the ball by winning 70-80% every week, but now he is in the same team after changing managers, and seems to be changing the format all the time.
“The whole team is figuring out how to play under Potter, so Sterling is not the only one who has to fix it.
“Using him in different positions has not helped. Actually I want to see him up and wide, especially on the left so he can go either way – inside or outside – when he runs in the box.
“But whatever you call his role, you want him on the ball close to the goal, not on his own half to run 60 or 70 yards to get a chance to shoot.
“At City, he always took the ball into the opposition half. When he ran into the area, he knew the ball was coming because of the players they had in their team. he gives him the things he needs.
“It’s not like playing for Chelsea – you have to do things yourself.”
Should he start against Iran?
Sterling also had a difficult time before last year’s European Championship, when his goals dried up for City and he found himself on the bench for their big games.
However, Southgate remained loyal, and Sterling repaid him by scoring three goals to help England reach the final, and secure a place in the competition’s group again.
Will the Three Lions boss do the same this time, when he selects his team to face Iran in their opener in Qatar on November 21?
“You want your players to be in shape, of course, but I think Gareth will stick with him this time around, and I can understand why after what he’s done for him in the past,” said Richards.
“All season he’s been playing well, but at least he’s playing a lot, which is what he wanted when he left City.
“I would start him against Iran again, in a front three with Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane. He deserves that belief, after what he did in England last season.
“Let’s see how he does in the first game and check after that. If he doesn’t do anything, it could be rotation time.
“But we’ve seen first hand how Raheem has responded after being sent off in England, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him remind everyone how good he is.”