Raheem Sterling’s hunger and desire to score goals means Pep Guardiola believes the Manchester City star has plenty more improvement left to make.
England winger Sterling came off the bench to break Dinamo Zagreb’s dogged resistance in Tuesday’s Champions League Group C match at the Etihad Stadium, before brilliantly setting up fellow substitute Phil Foden to seal a 2-0 victory in stoppage time.
It moved the 24-year-old Sterling on to nine goals in all competitions this season – well on the way to the 25 he chalked up last time around.
“I said many times, in a few years he will be a better player than today,” Guardiola said after a match where his team backed up their tournament-opening 3-0 victory away to Shakhtar Donetsk.
“His desire, the way he came in, he saw the first ball and attacked one against two. He was aggressive and the crowd said ‘wow’.
“Raheem is a player who is always there. He has this talent. He loves to score goals. On the crosses you always have that feeling.”
It marks a contrast with the player Guardiola inherited on the back of a torrid Euro 2016.
Then, a mistake or wasted chance could severely knock Sterling off his stride.
— Raheem Sterling (@sterling7) October 1, 2019
Now, as evidenced by him wrapping up a 3-1 Premier League win at Everton last Saturday despite a wretched earlier miss from close range, City’s most potent attacking threat will relentlessly go back for more.
“He said a few days ago that he missed chances against Everton but never was upset, was never thinking about bad mistakes. He was thinking about another [chance],” Guardiola said
“That is the point with Raheem. The feeling we had in the first season when we arrived here was he played good but it was like the goal… he didn’t care.
“Now, all the movements are there. [He gets] the ball and he is going to try and score. Still he can improve, in the finishing and the last decision.
“The pass to Phil was perfect. Commit, make a good decision, [using] the movement of Riyad [Mahrez] as well. It was good.
“But I still think he has a gap to improve and be even more clinical. The important thing is all the time he is there.
“That is the reason why this season and the previous season he has scored a lot of goals.”
Ilkay Gundogan suffered trials of a different kind after becoming Guardiola’s first signing at City, with an anterior cruciate ligament injury decimating his 2016-17 season in Manchester.
While never likely to provide the explosive contributions in which Sterling increasingly specialises, the Germany international’s calm and controlled display in midfield was pivotal in City’s efforts to grind Dinamo down – underlining his value to his manager.
“Gundogan, you cannot believe it how good he is. He’s an exceptional player. He can play in different positions, his work ethic,” Guardiola gushed.
“I missed him a lot, our first season here when after a few months he injured his ACL and was more than six months out. He is one of the best signings this club has done in its history.”
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