Footballers come in all sorts of forms: from reliable to goalscorers, warriors to creatives but very few are ever a match-winner.
And even fewer are match-winners on a regular basis. But those that are, are the most desirable and very few find themselves outside one of La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga or the Premier League’s top four – and any that are, will find themselves snapped up very quickly.
There’s a big difference between being an influential player, and a match-winner, though; Kevin De Bruyne, Mesut Ozil and Paul Pogba are influential but the trio rarely score the decisive goal in a game.
But the influential players aren’t judged by their points won, after all, goals win games, so the match-winners are notoriously the strikers and those up the top of the goalscoring charts. However, the two leading the way – Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah – have only won their teams a total of eight points between them; interestingly, Kane’s goals have only been a result-settling one on a single occasion this season – 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane.
Salah’s seven points won for Jurgen Klopp’s side, though, only make the Egyptian the second-highest in terms of result-settling goals.
First place is the man that Pep Guardiola has reinvented at the Etihad Stadium: Raheem Sterling. But is the winger an extremely rare breed of footballer: a match-winning creative?
Back in the summer of 2015, when Manchester City splashed out £49million for the then-Liverpool winger – a far from finished article – many would’ve happily left Sterling at home for Euro 2016 in France, let alone considered the former QPR trainee for the squad in Russia in 2018 – it’s funny now, how, behind Kane, Sterling is considered by William Hill as the second most dead cert for Gareth Southgate’s squad.
Sterling’s time at Anfield was pretty reminiscent of his first two seasons at the Etihad Stadium; electric pace with no (consistent) end product, chief tormentor of full-backs but with no final ball – a tale of frustration and poor coaching, backed up by a poor 31 goals and 22 assists in the six Premier League seasons prior to the current campaign.
Pep Guardiola, of course, was in charge of the Citizens, last season, which resulted in embarrassing defeats to Everton and Leicester City, a non-existent title challenge and a trophy-less season. However, Guardiola has been offered something very few ever have been in the Premier League: time.
A year later, Manchester City are bringing about comparisons of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, and the former Barcelona manager has taken a keen interest in Sterling’s footballing tutelage, and City, the player – and hopefully England – are reaping the rewards of the Catalan maestro’s involvement with the former Reds winger.
Sterling’s goalscoring form, although remarkable and hard to not notice, has not received the acclaim it so richly deserves; in a team that has the Player of the Season elect in Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, the greatest midfielder to ever play in the Premier League, and Manchester City’s all-time record goalscorer, Sergio Aguero, it’s easy to see why Sterling is playing second-fiddle to that trio.
Interestingly, though, Sterling has a greater pass success rate than his Belgium teammate – 85% to De Bruyne’s 83%. Furthermore, the England international’s involvement in 18 of City’s goals in the Premier League this season, is five more than Silva and three more than KDB – the sign of a match-winning creative?
Football loves a narrative, and the script is written for Sterling to score in the big Super Sunday fixture between his current and former employers. And you can bet – to add to the controversy and the social media uproar – that Sterling will score the decisive goal at Anfield.
After all, Sterling has scored the final goal six times for City already this season, totalling 16 points.
Guardiola has certainly added a cutting edge to Sterling’s finishing and to the Three Lions international’s positioning. Furthermore, it feels like Sterling has been encouraged to manage his output, with the majority of Sterling’s goals this season coming in the first 30 minutes or final 30 minutes of games – just three goals have come between the 15 minutes before and after half-time; Guardiola clearly feels that Sterling is best used as someone to unsettle the opposition early on or unleashed in the final part of the game when legs are tiring – Sterling’s successful take-on rate is already up 2.03% from last season, with 16 games still to play.
The average time for Sterling to score a decisive goal in his Manchester City career is the 75th minute. However, apart from last season’s 2-1 win over Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium, then all of the points Sterling has won City have come this season. Therefore, removing the victory against the Gunners, Sterling’s average time for this campaign rises to the 76th minute.