We’ve been there before: on the eve of a major tournament, with debate raging over whether Raheem Sterling deserves a place in the England team.
While his record at international level and in major finals remains impressive, his club form at Chelsea doesn’t mean much of a chance for inclusion with the World Cup just two weeks away.
Sterling has scored twice in the Champions League since the start of September, but after not having a shot in Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal, he has now gone 596 minutes without a goal or assist, the current record at the end of August. .
That would hardly help, even if the task was set up. Whether he’s a winger, a striker or a winger, Blues manager Graham Potter appears unsure how to get the best out of the 27-year-old, or even what his best position is.
“Raheem still rates very strongly but looks a little lost,” said former England defender Micah Richards, who played Sterling against the Gunners for MOTD2.
“It seems a bit frustrated in terms of Chelsea in the set-up, and, tactically, they don’t know what they want to do.”
Big move – then a new manager
Losing his way was not seen as Sterling’s mission when he announced his £50m move from Manchester City to Bridge in July.
Sterling had been tracked by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich but seems to have impressed by the vision of the manager at the time, Thomas Tuchel; and also the parts which he drew for him in his company.
Less than two months later, though, Tuchel was history. Potter is now thinking of Chelsea’s future, but his frequent tweaks in formation and strategy suggest he is unsure of the best way to use many members of his new squad, including Sterling.
“Raheem joined another top club in Chelsea and I saw it as the perfect move for him,” added Richards. But then they changed their manager and we all saw the uproar that followed.
“After the manager signs you and says you are his top guy, like Tuchel did with Sterling, it must be frustrating when the 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 make that clear – but it’s down to him to get the best out of Sterling now.”
‘Sterling on the ball go near the goal’
Sterlinger scored 131 goals in 339 games for City, with his first goal to see him complete a sweeping pass to the back.
He has been much less productive since joining Chelsea – probably because he takes far fewer chances in front of goal.
|Man city 2021-22||Chelsea 2022-23|
|40.1||Mins shot through||56.5|
|175.9||Mins per goal||339|
“The reason the city was so effective was because of the operating system,” Richards explained. “He knew the system, and he adapted it, because it ran and did, exactly what the customer needed.
“City also played in the same way, dominating the ball with 70-80% possession, every week, but now in a team that is in transition, the managers have changed and they seem to change the formation all the time.
“The whole team is still figuring out how to play under Potter, so Sterling is not the only one who has to work.
“It didn’t help that he was used in different positions. I would ideally like to see him on the pitch high and wide, preferably on the left so that he can either go inside or outside the way when he runs into the box.
“But whatever you call his role, you want him on the ball near the goal, not in his own half having to run 60 or 70 yards for a chance to cross.
“For City, he always picked up the ball in the middle of the opposition. When he made runs into his area, he knew the ball was coming because of the players he had in his team.
“That’s why he doesn’t play for Chelsea – he’s got a problem.”
Start in Iran?
Sterling also had a difficult time before last year’s European Championship, when his goals for City dried up and he found himself on the bench for the most important games.
Southgate remained loyal, however, and Sterling returned the favor by scoring three goals to help England reach the final and earn himself a place in the team of the tournament as well.
Will the Three Lions do the same this season when they take on Iran in their opening game in Qatar on November 21?
“You want your players to be in form, of course, but I think Gareth has stuck with it this season and I can understand why after what he did in the past,” Richards said.
“Every season he doesn’t play great, but at least he plays a lot, which is what he wanted when he left the city.
“I will start him against Iran as well, as part of a front three with Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane. He deserves credit after what he did in England earlier.
“Let’s see how he does in the first game, and then evaluate. If he doesn’t do anything, then he could be rotated next season.
“But we’ve seen before how Raheem responded after being basically drafted to England, and I don’t think it’s surprising that he reminds everyone how good he is.”