We’ve been here before: on the eve of a major tournament, with debate raging over whether Raheem Sterling deserves his place in the England team.
While his record at international level and in major finals remains impressive, his club form for Chelsea is not doing much to justify his inclusion at the World Cup just two weeks away.
Sterling has scored twice in the Champions League since the start of September but, after failing to get a shot in Sunday’s defeat by Arsenal, he has now gone 596 minutes without a goal or assist in the Premier League, a run which dates back to the end of August. .
It hardly helps that he hasn’t had an established role. Whether at full-back, winger or striker, Blues manager Graham Potter seems 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.
“It’s like he’s a bit frustrated in terms of Chelsea’s formation and, tactically, he doesn’t know what they want him to do.”
A big move – then a new manager
Losing his way was not the scenario Sterling envisioned when he mapped out his £50million move from Manchester City to Stamford Bridge in July.
Sterling had been chased by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich but was apparently impressed in the vision of then manager Thomas Tuchel, and also the role he described for him on his team.
However, less than two months later, Tuchel was history. Potter is now planning Chelsea’s future, but his 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 seemed like the perfect move for him,” added Richards. “But then they changed their manager and we’ve all seen the upheaval that followed.
“Once a manager signs you and says you’re their main man, like Tuchel did with Sterling, it must be frustrating 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 make that clear – but it’s up to him to get the best out of Sterling now.”
“Get the ball Sterling by the goal”
Sterling scored 131 goals in 339 games for City, with his signature finish seeing him reach to finish a sweeping pass at the back post.
He has been far less prolific since joining Chelsea – perhaps because he is getting far fewer chances in front of goal.
|Man City 2021-22||Chelsea 2022-23|
|40.1||Minutes per shot||56.5|
|49%||in % sign||39%|
|22.8%||% of conversion||16.7%|
|175.9||Minutes per goal||339|
“The reason he was so effective at City was because he was part of a system that worked,” explained Richards. “He knew the system and adapted it because the runs he made were exactly what the team needed.
“City also played the same way, dominating the ball with 70-80% possession, every week, but now he is in a team that is in transition after changing managers and seems to change the formation all the time.
“The whole team is still figuring out how they play under Potter, so Sterling is not the only one who has to do that.
“Using him in different positions hasn’t helped. Ideally I want to see him up and wide on the pitch, preferably on the left, so he can go either way – inside or outside – when enters the zone.
“But whatever you call his role, you want him on the ball close to goal, not in his own half who has to run 60 or 70 meters to get a shooting opportunity.
“For City, he always got the ball inside the opposition half. When he made his runs into the box, he knew the ball was coming because of the players they had in their team to provide for it.
“That’s not the case when he plays for Chelsea – he has to create things himself.”
Should it start against Iran?
Sterling also had a difficult time before last year’s European Championship when his goals came for City and he found himself on the bench for their biggest games.
However, Southgate stayed loyal and Sterling rewarded him by scoring three goals to help England reach the final and earn a place in the team of the tournament as well.
Will the Three Lions boss do the same this time around when he picks his squad to face Iran in their opener in Qatar on November 21?
“You want your players to be fit, of course, but I think Gareth will stick with it this time around, and I can understand why after what he’s done for him in the past,” Richards said.
“All season he hasn’t played well, but at least he’s playing a lot, which is what he wanted when he left City.
“I would also start against Iran, as part of a trio with Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane. He deserves that trust, after what he has done for England in the past.
“Let’s see how he does in the first game and evaluate him after that. If he does nothing, then it may be time to rotate.
“But we’ve seen before how Raheem has responded after basically being kicked out of England and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him remind everyone how good he is.”