As the Raheem Sterling transfer saga has finally come to a close, we can finally analyse what exactly he will bring to this Manchester City team.
Versatility and tactical flexibility
The £49 million Englishman brings a similar trait to to what James Milner brought; versatility. As Brendan Rodgers had to experiment with his team due to the influx of players following the sale of Luis Suárez to Barcelona, Sterling was played in as many positions as Milner filled at City.
Sterling managed to impressively fill in for all of the front four positions at Liverpool during his 14/15 campaign. He was deployed down both wings, as an unconventional center forward, and in the traditional ten role. This will be one of Sterling’s most important roles in the current Manchester City side.
It has been well documented that City have had issues with injuries to their forwards over the past couple of seasons where coincidentally, last season, Milner had to play as a false nine.
However, Sterling will be able to easily slot into whichever attacking position becomes vacated should another injury surface. Even if City come into another striker crisis, Sterling could take the reins up top.
He would be utilized potentially as a false nine in a deep lying forward role supported by wingers à la Barcelona with Lionel Messi in the middle. He certainly seemed a threat in that position last season.
This is where Sterling’s versatility will become key to City as there are few players who have adapted to so many different positions at the level in which the youngster has shown.
In a more traditional sense, if Pellegrini finds it fit to fashion a permanent starting position for Sterling next season, there would be no problem integrating the former Liverpool player into his 4-2-3-1 formation.
With this lineup in place with just one striker up top, City’s whole dynamic could evolve to create further problems for opposition defences. Replacing the tactical vision and passing ability of Silva with the pure pace and dribbling ability of Sterling on that left wing would stretch defences more than City currently do.
There would also be a level of unpredictability created leaving the opposition in a conundrum if for instance, Pellegrini wanted to play around with the players switching positions mid-match.
Having defenders unsure of whether to focus on man marking or cutting off passing lanes could be especially handy for a group of forwards as skilled as City possess.
Alternatively, if Pellegrini feels the need to exploit the power of a traditional big-man up top, Sterling could still easily slot into the team.
With Agüero sitting behind the likes of Wilfried Bony (or Edin Dzeko if he stays) as he occasionally does, Sterling can exploit his pace and ability to penetrate defences down the right wing with Silva as a wide playmaker.
With such pace and incisiveness occupying the right wing along with Aguero surging forward, Silva would have the option of constantly playing over the top balls to those areas.
Defensive attention would then be focused on Agüero and Sterling leaving Silva (or any of City’s other great passers) with the easy option of playing a ball straight to the chest of the big man up top or a executing a defense splitting pass.
This version of the 4-2-3-1 would provide Pellegrini with even more tactical freedom to confuse the opposition. Sterling, Silva, & Agüero could constantly rotate positions leaving defenders with a marking nightmare.
Pellegrini could also very simply change the formation by pushing either Agüero or Sterling up alongside Bony if City were attempting to play with more offensive pressure. The options are nearly endless and that is thanks to the sheer versatility and offensive danger that Sterling brings to the team.
Rejuvenation of an ageing team
Regardless of the tactical advantage that the addition of Sterling brings City, his addition would simply rejuvenate what would be a slightly ageing side.
Sterling’s new midfield compatriots include a 32-year-old Yaya Toure, 30-year-old Fernandinho, 29-year-olds in the form of Silva and Jesús Navas and 28-year-old Nasri. Bringing in a 20-year-old as talented as Sterling would definitely add some much needed freshness to this City midfield.
And let’s not forget the sheer energy that we have all seen Sterling bring to Liverpool in the past at his best.
He was able to flat foot defences with ease the last couple of seasons alongside Luis Suárez, Daniel Sturridge, and Philippe Coutinho.
Just imagine what he could do alongside the likes of Aguero, Silva and Toure.
Pellegrini has many options at his disposal with the role that Sterling will play in the team. For big fans of Sterling, this pre-season will be a huge one to pay close attention to as it could signal his future path at City.
In the smallest sense, even if he doesn’t start straight away (which is unlikely), Sterling at least adds some world-class rotation into an already stacked Manchester City side full of international talent.
Sterling will also keep teammates like Nasri and Navas on their toes with the added competition for places.
No matter what happens, the addition of Sterling brings deadly pace and attacking prowess to a team that desperately needed it and struggled to defend their league title.
For any opposition side to undervalue his worth to City in the coming season would be a mistake as Sterling could be the difference between City finishing second this past season and City finishing first this upcoming season.