Pep Guardiola insists Raheem Sterling can improve upon his hat-trick heroics in Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Watford.
Sterling’s quickfire treble early in the second half, which was kick-started by a controversial offside call in his favour, helped City to preserve their one-point lead over Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table with eight games remaining.
The England winger has once again been in superb form for Guardiola’s side this term, scoring 15 goals and supplying nine assists in 27 Premier League appearances to place himself in player-of-the-season contention.
But Guardiola felt Sterling’s showing before half-time – in keeping with a generally lacklustre collective display – was some way below his increasingly brilliant best.
“Raheem can do better. He scored three goals, we’re delighted, but he can do better,” said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.
“The first half was not the best performance from him but it’s good when not playing at the top level to be consistent and score the three goals.
“It is the most important thing and we need that. The first half, he can do better.”
— Raheem Sterling (@sterling7) March 9, 2019
Sterling’s place in City’s long-term future was secured last November when he penned a contract extension until 2023, part of a policy at City that has seen the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Aymeric Laporte and Ederson renew ahead of schedule.
Ilkay Gundogan’s situation stands in contrast, with the Germany midfielder’s deal set to expire at the end of next season.
Gundogan is seemingly in no rush to extend his terms at the Etihad Stadium and, after a performance against Watford he described as “incredible” by “an incredible player in all senses”, Guardiola chose to apply a little more gentle pressure.
“Hopefully he can stay. I would prefer him to stay but at the same time I want to feel he wants to stay too,” he said.
“If he doesn’t want to stay he has to leave. But we would like to continue. Next season he has a contract.
“I said before, if he wants to stay we will talk to him and we can sign the contract. We signed the contract with Kevin in a few days, with other players, with Gabriel.
“But he doesn’t want to right now so we will wait. When he wants it, we will be here.”
We spoke at half time to make more movements. @aguerosergiokun made more movements in behind. Clear and faster.
Hablamos en el descanso de movernos más. Agüero hizo más movimientos por dentro. Claros y rápidos.#MCIWAT #mancity pic.twitter.com/tsmvRau12Q
— PepTeam (@PepTeam) March 9, 2019
Victory for Liverpool and Gundogan’s old Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp over Burnley on Sunday kept the title race tight heading into the season’s final two months.
City are not back in Premier League action until March 30 at Fulham, with Champions League and FA Cup games against Schalke and Swansea City on the agenda next for the EFL Cup winners.
This battle on all fronts leads Guardiola to think slip-ups from his team, who have won 10 of their past 11 in the league, is inevitable.
“It’s nice to be there [top of the league], of course,” he added. “When people asked if Liverpool feel the pressure on top of the league [when they were leading], I said I preferred to be on top than behind.
“It’s always better to be there because it’s in your hands. But my feeling is the same as a few games ago: we are going to drop points. With this calendar and schedule, we are going to drop points – as few as possible.
“Keep the distance with Liverpool as much as possible and arrive in the last fixtures with the opportunity to win the title.”
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