Raheem Sterling joined Manchester City from Liverpool for £49 million in July 2015, a move that made him the most expensive English player in history.
At the end of his first season, the price tag seemed to weigh heavily upon the youngster, whose form tailed away much like City’s Premier League title interest during Manuel Pellegrini’s final year at the helm.
Sterling’s acrimonious departure from Liverpool made him the subject of sustained vitriol, culminating in him dubbing himself “#thehatedone” on Instagram during England’s shambolic Euro 2016 campaign.
Six years on from that low point, the 27-year-old has won four Premier League titles among 10 major honours and is one of City’s all-time leading goalscorers.
He has more than 100 Premier League goals to his name and was England’s best player and attacking inspiration en route to their best tournament performance since 1996 last year. By any measure, he stands as one of the most successful Premier League transfers of the past decade.
After weeks of reports, Raheem Sterling has completed his move to Chelsea, joining the club in Los Angeles for the pre-season tour of the United States.
Why did Chelsea want to sign Raheem Sterling?
Put simply, goals, assists and all that good stuff. Sterling is a numbers fiend.
Although he is not noted as a dead-eyed finisher (more on that below), Sterling has consistently produced the goods in every season under Pep Guardiola at City, reaching double figures for goals in each of the past six campaigns.
His best came in 2019/20 as he plundered 31 goals across all competitions, with his 14 in the following campaign his lowest return of the period in question. In four of those seasons, he has reached double figures for assists.
A penalty to secure a 1-0 win over Wolves last term earned Sterling membership of the Premier League’s 100 club. A sixth City hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Norwich came in February before a wonderful long-range strike against Sporting CP in the Champions League made him the joint second-highest scoring Englishman in the competition's history on 24 goals, alongside Paul Scholes and behind Wayne Rooney (30).
There are, of course, many other top-class facets to Sterling’s game - the livewire dribbling, his intelligent darting runs that pull defences into grotesque shapes and a general relentlessness. But when it comes to goal involvements, he deals lavishly in a currency where Chelsea have not tended to trade so readily in recent years
Manchester City's all-time leading goalscorers
Do Chelsea struggle for goals?
It will probably become a head-scratching football trivia question over the years to come. In the 2020/21 season, when Chelsea won the Champions League, who was their top scorer in the Premier League?
The answer is defensive midfielder Jorginho with seven, all of which were penalties. Tammy Abraham was their joint-top scorer across all competitions with 12, despite the fact Thomas Tuchel had more or less decided the Englishman was surplus to requirements by the time Kai Havertz netted the only goal to down Sterling at City in the Porto showpiece.
Romelu Lukaku was supposed to be the final piece in the puzzle for the freshly minted European champions, only it has not panned out like that.
If Sterling’s move from Liverpool to City is one of the most successful big-money transfers of the current Premier League era, Lukaku's shipping off back to Inter Milan on loan a year after rejoining Chelsea for £97.5m may well go down as one of the very worst.
The Belgium international did end the campaign as Chelsea’s leading scorer overall with 15, although Mason Mount’s 11 outstripped his paltry league tally of eight in 16 starts and 10 substitute appearances.
Chelsea’s search for an effective centre-forward to fill the void left by Diego Costa in 2017 will rumble on although, by pursuing Sterling, Tuchel appears to be adopting a different strategy. The City player certainly is not an out-out-striker, even if he has outscored Chelsea’s Premier League and all-competitions top scorers in each of the past five seasons.
As a wide forward who can also do damage centrally via destructive running with and without the ball, he would represent an upgrade on Werner and form a versatile and mobile front three alongside Mount and Havertz that, on paper, looks pretty impressive.
Raheem Sterling vs. Chelsea's top scorers
|Season||Chelsea top scorer PL||Chelsea top scorer all comps||Sterling goals PL||Sterling goals all comps|
|2021/22||Mount (11)||Lukaku (15)||13||17|
|2020/21||Jorginho (7)||Abraham (12)||10||14|
|2019/20||Abraham (15)||Abraham (18)||20||31|
|2018/19||Hazard (16)||Hazard (21)||17||25|
|2017/18||Hazard (12)||Hazard (17)||18||23|
Does Raheem Sterling play well with a false nine? How would he play with Erling Haaland?
Sterling’s experience playing alongside a false nine, while occasionally taking on central attacking duties, will be part of his appeal to Tuchel as Havertz looks likely to begin the season as Chelsea’s attacking focal point.
Sergio Aguero’s injury-ruined final campaign at City in 2020/21 and the failure to sign Harry Kane last year means the Premier League champions have spent the bulk of the past two seasons operating without a specialist striker.
Most of City’s attacking players thrived under this setup, but the same cannot be said of Sterling with any conviction. In fact, the past two seasons have been his most challenging under Guardiola and his output declined accordingly, with fewer goals scored and a lower quality of cumulative chances created as per Opta's expected assists (xA) metric.
Sterling was a surprise selection for the 2021 Champions League final having fallen out of Guardiola’s preferred XI during the run-in and underwhelmed, although he was not alone in that regard on a dismal night for his team.
He went on to excel for England at Euro 2020, netting the only goal in group-stage wins against Croatia and the Czech Republic, opening the scoring in the 2-0 last-16 win over Germany and producing a bravura performance in the semi-final victory versus Denmark that Gary Lineker hailed as “one of the greatest displays I’ve seen from a player in an England shirt.”
That Sterling did not bring his Euros form back to strikerless City, having thrived alongside Kane for the Three Lions, feels significant. He scored once in the Premier League before November. A sumptuous half-volley against Everton kick-started a strong mid-season streak, but that run owed plenty to a resilience bordering on bloody-mindedness that has typified the player's career.
Raheem Sterling on the decline at City?
|Season||Games played||Games started||Goals||Assists||xG||xA||Big chances scored||Big chances missed||Big chance conversion|
*Statistics via Opta for all competitions excluding the Carabao Cup
After shining as the wingman to Aguero and Kane and toiling at times without an attacking reference point alongside him, it could be argued that Erling Haaland’s arrival at City marks the perfect time for Sterling to kick on again.
That might still be how things pan out as the player continues to mull his future heading into the final year of his contract in Manchester, although that would mean Sterling regaining a status he appeared to lose around March 2021.
Did Raheem Sterling and Pep Guardiola fall out?
After City’s record-breaking 21-match winning run came to an end with a lacklustre 2-0 home defeat in the Manchester derby, Sterling was benched for the subsequent 5-2 win over Southampton.
The following weekend, he did not make the travelling squad for a trip to Fulham, amid rumours of a bust-up with Guardiola. Both men subsequently denied the severity of any disagreement but Sterling spent key moments in the run-in on the outside looking in.
City’s dominant form meant the Premier League was all-but secured by the time of their derby defeat, but Sterling was a second-half substitute in the second leg of the Champions League knockout tie against Borussia Monchengladbach. He went on to play a grand total of 10 minutes across the quarter and semi-final matches versus Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain.
Despite his mid-season resurgence and generally strong showings when called upon down the stretch last time around, Sterling found himself on the bench for the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid and both games in the dramatic semi-final loss to Real Madrid.
He was an unused substitute for the 4-1 Manchester derby win in March and came off the bench for the pivotal final two games of a gripping title race against West Ham and Aston Villa.
Guardiola could reasonably point towards the 3,126 minutes Sterling played across all competitions in 2021/22 - more than Riyad Mahrez, Jack Grealish and Jack Grealish and only 83 fewer than Phil Foden - but there remains a sense that he is no longer a go-to for the biggest occasions in the manner he indisputably was between 2017 and 2020.
Is Raheem Sterling a good finisher?
Without his place in City’s XI feeling guaranteed, there is a different type of scrutiny around Sterling's performances when he does play - one that shines a harsh light on one or two of the less-impressive aspects of his game.
Surrounded by smooth stylists like Mahrez, Grealish, Foden and Bernardo Silva, Sterling’s touch can sometimes look jerky, rushed and untidy. His direct approach provides a vital contrast and one that City would miss if he leaves, but there tend to be more heavy touches and stumbles than those from his teammates who glide around the pitch as if in carpet slippers.
Then there’s his finishing. As much as the impressive statistics above demonstrate a player who absolutely knows where the net is, there is little point glossing over Sterling’s propensity for throwing in an array of howlers from about four yards.
The one season in his career when he broke through the 30-goal barrier concluded with the England star blazing over with the goal at his mercy before Lyon dumped City out of the Champions League. That campaign and that moment encapsulated the Sterling paradox better than any other - an elite goalscorer who is not an elite finisher.
In 2018/19, City’s domestic treble-winning season where Sterling took his game to another level for club and country, he outstripped his expected goals (xG) figure of 19.8 by more than five goals and converted 60% of what Opta classed as 'big chances'.
100 - Raheem Sterling has scored his 100th goal in the Premier League. Sterling is the 32nd player to reach this total in the competition, and the eighth-youngest at 27 years and 3 days. Centurion. pic.twitter.com/QGKaeoPwwR— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 11, 2021
Sterling’s big chance conversion rate has not tracked above 41.67% since and dwindled at 37.5% in 2020/21. He performed in line with his xG figure for 2019/20 but performed below it in each of the past two seasons.
That breakthrough 2018/19 season was, in hindsight, an outlier in terms of Sterling’s finishing and, if he makes the move to Chelsea, expect one or two close-range opportunities to be ballooned into the Shed End.
A reasonable fear might be that, in a side that creates fewer chances than City, Sterling’s shortcomings in this regard would be damaging. However, Southgate’s England are hardly a swashbuckling outfit and he has thrived in that side, while his all-round game means he as much a reason for City’s high chance creation as he is a beneficiary of it.
Overall, it is easy to see the appeal for Tuchel. This would be a transfer involving an elite player in his prime, switching from one of the Premier League’s big hitters to another.
For all that the past two seasons have been complicated at times for Sterling, this mooted switch would strengthen Chelsea and weaken his current employers despite all the palpable Haaland excitement.