Pep Guardiola is ready to hand Raheem Sterling a central attacking role as he continues to grapple with Manchester City’s wastefulness in front of goal.
Guardiola returned to a familiar lament from last season when his side were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Everton on Monday.
Despite having Kyle Walker sent off before half-time, City created ample opportunities but generally erred in the final pass or with sloppy finishing until Sterling – also culpable in the latter regard – smashed home a volley eight minutes from time.
The England winger came off the bench in City’s opening two matches of the Premier League season but is pushing for a start at Bournemouth on Saturday, opponents he has scored against seven times across five appearances for Liverpool and his current employers.
Guardiola largely deployed Sterling out wide last term but watched him hit the back of the net against Real Madrid, Tottenham and West Ham in pre-season from a central berth he has stated the player prefers.
“Last season, Raheem played all the time out wide and this season, since the pre-season game against Real Madrid, he has played more as a number 10, behind the striker,” the former Barcelona boss explained.
“He is so dangerous in that position. I like him to sit there, closer to the middle, because he commits the central defenders. He is so aggressive in the small spaces.
“In the last four or five games, he scored a goal per game. Hopefully the goal he scored in the last game can help his confidence.”
Sterling’s haul of nine goals for Liverpool in 2013-14 remains his best Premier League return – one he must improve to provide the cutting edge Guardiola desires – but the manager refused to speculate how prolific the 22-year-old may become.
“I am not a magician to know that,” he said. “When he plays inside he has more chances to score than out wide.
“But last season, when he played wide he created penalties and crosses in the box, and goals.”
10 – Raheem Sterling was the only Man City player to hit double figures for both goals (10) & assists (15) in 2016-17 (all comps). Thrive. pic.twitter.com/uX6J8cZOM8
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 27, 2017
What happens at the end of such crosses into the box remains Guardiola’s prime concern.
The 46-year-old joined director of football Txiki Begiristain in insisting City will not launch late swoops for Lionel Messi or Kylian Mbappe.
Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez remains heavily linked to the Etihad Stadium but Guardiola insists he is happy with the forwards at his disposal.
Indeed, supreme goal poachers like Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus grasping for a clinical contribution, as they did against Everton, leaves their boss mildly baffled.
“I’m concerned,” he said. “We have guys who can score goals.
“I never will doubt Sergio and Gabriel. Even Kevin [De Bruyne] is a guy who can score 12 to 15 goals. Last season he made 21, I think.
“But you see the Everton game, 11 against 10 for more than 50 minutes; you saw how many chances we created against one of the best defensive teams.
“It’s a little bit like last season. We are going to try to find the chance to be confident. One day it is going to click and we are going to score goals.”
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