We’ve been here before: in the run-up to a major tournament, the debate rages over whether Raheem Sterling deserves a place in the England squad.
While his record at international level and in major finals remains impressive, his club form at Chelsea will do little to help him join the World Cup, which is only two weeks away.
Sterling has scored twice in the Champions League since the start of September, but after Sunday’s defeat at Arsenal, he went 596 minutes in the Premier League without a goal or assist until the end of August. .
It doesn’t help that he doesn’t play a regular role either. Whether at full-back, winger or striker, Blues manager Graham Potter has no idea how to get the best out of the 27-year-old, or even what his best position is.
“I still rate Raheem highly, but he seems a bit lost,” said former England defender Micah Richards, who watched Sterling against the Gunners for MOTD2.
“He’s a bit frustrated with Chelsea’s formation and doesn’t seem to know what they want him to do tactically.”
Big move – then a new manager
When Sterling was plotting a £50m move from Manchester City to Stamford Bridge in July, there was no scenario in which he would lose his way.
Sterling was watched by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but was left unscathed. in the view of then manager Thomas Tuchel, as well as the role he has set for him in his team.
Less than two months later, Tuchel made history. Potter is now planning Chelsea’s future, but frequent changes in formation and tactics suggest he is unsure of the best way to use many members of his new squad, including Sterling.
“Rahim has joined another top club in Chelsea and it looks like the perfect move for him,” added Richards. “But then they changed managers and we all saw the upheaval that followed.
“Once the manager signs you and says you’re their best lad, like Tuchel did with Sterling, a new manager comes in and wants to use you differently, it has to be frustrating.
“Every player just wants to have some stability. I think he’s in good hands with Potter – let’s be clear about that – but now it’s up to him to get the best out of Sterling.”
“Bringing down Sterling on the ball close to goal”
Sterling has scored 131 goals in 339 games for City, his trademark finish seeing him arrive at the back post to finish off a passing move.
He has been far less productive since joining Chelsea – perhaps because he is getting fewer chances in front of goal.
|Man City 2021-22||Chelsea 2022-23|
|40.1||Min to shoot||56.5|
|49%||% on target||39%|
|175.9||Minutes for a goal||339|
“The reason he was so effective at City was because he was part of the system he worked in,” Richards explained. “He knew the system and he set it up because the runs he made were exactly what the team needed.
“City have been playing the same way, dominating every week with 70-80% possession, but now they are a team in transition after changing managers and seem to be constantly changing formations.
“The whole team is still coming to terms with how they played under Potter, so it’s not up to Sterling to decide that.
“Using him in different positions hasn’t helped at all. Ideally I’d like to see him high and wide, preferably on the left, so when he runs into the box he can go either way – inside or outside.
“But whatever you call his role, you want him to have the ball close to goal, not in his own half, to run 60 or 70 yards to get a shot.
“For City, he always took the ball inside the opposition half. When he ran into the area, he knew the ball was coming because the players in their team provided it.
“Playing at Chelsea is not like that – he has to create things himself.”
Should it start against Iran?
Sterling also had a tough time in the run-up to last year’s European Championship, when his goals dried up for City and he sat out their biggest games.
But Southgate remained faithful and Sterling scored three goals to help England reach the final and earn a place in the team of the tournament.
Will the Three Lions boss pick his side this time to face Iran in their opening game in Qatar on November 21?
“Obviously you want your players to be fit but I think Gareth will be with him this time as well and I can understand why he’s done what he’s done for him in the past,” Richards said.
“He hasn’t been at his best all season, but at least he’s playing a lot, which is what he wants when he leaves City.
“I would start him against Iran, with Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane as part of a front three. He deserves that trust because of what he has done for England so far.
“Let’s see how he does in the first game and evaluate him after that. If he doesn’t do anything, it might be time for the rotation.
“But we’ve already seen Raheem’s response after being sent off and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him remind everyone how good he is.”