We’ve been here before: on the eve of a big tournament, debating whether Raheem Sterling deserves his place in the England squad.
While their record at international level and in major finals remains impressive, Chelsea’s club form is not paying much attention with only two weeks to go to the World Cup.
Sterling has scored twice in the Champions League since the start of September, but after not having a shot in Sunday’s defeat at Arsenal, he has now gone 596 minutes without a Premier League goal or assist, a run that began at the end of August. .
It hardly helps that he hasn’t had an established role either. Whether as a winger, winger or striker, Blues manager Graham Potter is unsure how to get the best out of the 27-year-old, or even what his best position is.
“I still rate Raheem very highly, but he looks a bit lost,” said former England defender Micah Richards, who watched Sterling against the Gunners for MOTD2.
“He seems a bit frustrated in terms of Chelsea’s organization and tactically he doesn’t know what they want to do.”
A big move, then a new manager
Losing his way was not the scenario Sterling envisioned when he marked his £50m switch from Manchester City to Stamford Bridge in July.
Sterling was followed by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but was apparently unimpressed According to the vision of then manager Thomas Tuchel, and also the role he defined in his team.
Two months later, however, Tuchel was history. Potter is now charting Chelsea’s future, but frequent changes in formation and tactics suggest he is unsure of how best to use many members of his new squad, including Sterling.
“Raheem joined another top club in Chelsea and it felt like the perfect move,” added Richards. “But then they changed the director and we all saw the incident that followed.
“Once a manager has signed you and said you’re his main guy, like Tuchel did with Sterling, it must be frustrating when a new manager comes in and wants to use you in a different way.
“Every player 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 now to get the best out of Sterling.”
“Put Sterling by the ball”
Sterling scored 131 goals in 339 games for City, and saw his trademark finish arrive to finish a terrific pass at the back post.
He has been much less productive since joining Chelsea, probably because he gets fewer chances in front of goal.
|Man City 2021-22||Chelsea 2022-23|
|40.1||Minutes per shot||56.5|
|175.9||Minutes per goal||339|
“The reason it was so effective in water was because it was part of a functioning system,” Richards explained. “He knew the system, and he adapted it, because the runs he made were what the team needed.
“City played the same way, dominating with 70-80% possession every week, but now they are in a team in transition after changing managers, and they seem to be changing formations all the time.
“The whole team is still figuring out how they play under Potter, so Sterling isn’t the only one who needs to work on that.
“Using him in different positions hasn’t helped. Ideally I want to see him upfield and wide, preferably on the left, so he can move from one side to the other – inside or outside – when he gets into the box.
“But whatever you call his role, you want the ball near the goal, not having to go 60 or 70 yards into his half to get a shot.
“For City he always received the ball inside the opponent’s half. When he ran into the box, he knew the ball was coming because of the players he had in his team.
“That’s not playing at Chelsea, he has to create things himself.”
Should he start against Iran?
Sterling also had a difficult time ahead of last year’s European Championship, as his goals dried up for City and he was left on the bench for their biggest games.
Southgate remained loyal, however, and Sterling paid off with three goals to help England reach the final and also secure a place in the team of the tournament.
Will the Three Lions boss do the same this time around when he chooses to face Iran in the opening game in Qatar on November 21?
“You want your players to be fit, of course, but I think Gareth will stick with him this time as well, and I can understand why he has in the past because of him,” Richards said.
“He hasn’t played great all season but at least he’s playing a lot, which is what he wanted when he left City.
“I would also start against Iran, with Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane as a front three. He deserves that faith, after what he has done for England in the past.
“Let’s see how he does in the first game and then assess him. If he doesn’t do anything, it might be time to rotate him.
“But we’ve seen before how Raheem has responded after basically being dropped for England, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see everyone remind him how good he is.”