Smoldering Raheem Sterling still waiting to spark as Anfield inferno looms for Man City – Dominic Farrell
All the talk after the teamsheets dropped in at the Parc des Princes revolved around the Paris Saint-Germain front three.
Lionel Messi. Neymar. Kylian Mbappe. The fantasy forward line all present and correct for their dart at Premier League champions Manchester City.
Mbappe had a hand in Idrissa Gueye’s opening goal and finds himself at a career crossroads amid interest from Real Madrid interest and an expiring contract.
Leading the line in opposition was another man who has also attracted admiring glances from the Spanish capital, with his professional life also seemingly approaching a pivot point.
These are unusual times for Raheem Sterling – a key man for so long for Manchester City as the nation at large remained, to an often bizarre extent, sceptical of his talents.
All that changed earlier this year when Sterling fell out of favour under Pep Guardiola as City wrapped up a third top-flight title in four seasons. He rebounded in stunning fashion to star as England’s standout attacker in their run to the Euro 2020 final. In terms of his standing with club and country, it marked a complete role reversal.
As the 2021/22 campaign builds in temperature – it arguably doesn’t get any hotter than eight days featuring trips to Chelsea, PSG and Liverpool – Guardiola and the City faithful are still waiting for Sterling to relocate the sort of bravura performance that illuminated the European Championship semi-final against the Czech Republic.
Alas, there has been no transfer of that momentum back to domestic duty. As ever in Sterling’s case, that was not for the want of trying in the French capital.
Messi finished the night as the toast of the PSG supporters, scoring a majestic 74th-minute goal to open his account for his new club and seal a hard-fought 2-0 win.
During the first half, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner had 27 touches – the fewest of any PSG player, while Sterling pulled defenders here and there, trying to drag City back into the contest.
He almost did just that in the 26th minute, meeting Kevin De Bruyne’s wonderful delivery with a fine header that cannoned into the crossbar. Bernardo Silva’s follow-up also striking the bar was the most inexplicable occurrence of the evening.
Early in the second period, Sterling latched on to Joao Cancelo’s through-ball but hooked wide left-footed. It was the moment when the 26-year-old’s match and perhaps his season threatened to spark but did not quite ignite.
His last act was a driving, defiant dribble that ended with a foul that saw Marco Verratti booked. Gabriel Jesus then replaced Sterling, who cut a dejected figure on the substitutes’ bench during the closing minutes.
Overall, his performance represented a step in the right direction when compared to the scoreless outings against Southampton and Wycombe Wanderers last week.
It probably will not be enough to earn a start at Anfield on Sunday, the stage on which Sterling wants to shine above any other, in front of a Merseyside public who revile a man they briefly idolised.
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In City’s 4-1 win at Liverpool last season, Sterling scored and was electrifying throughout. He was similarly relentless in a 3-1 defeat in 2019/20 – to the extent he continued the argument with Joe Gomez in the St George’s Park canteen the following week.
With the heat cranked up to maximum by a frothing Kop this weekend, perhaps a chance will arrive for Sterling to make his mark on the defining rivalry of this era in English football. It would be the perfect time for his flickering season to catch fire.
How do you think Raheem Sterling performed against Paris Saint-Germain? Follow City Is Ours Editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
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