Sterling will pull through - Onuoha backs Man City star as Euro 2020 looms

By Sports Desk June 12, 2021

Raheem Sterling still has the determination and strength of character to make an impact on the biggest stage, according to former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha.

Sterling is expected to start England's opening Euro 2020 game against their 2018 World Cup conquerors Croatia at Wembley, even though his club form dwindled during the second half of the 2020-21 campaign.

So often an automatic pick during the Pep Guardiola era, Sterling fell out of favour for Manchester City as they continued their progress towards a third Premier League title in four seasons.

The 26-year-old has only scored once apiece for club and country since February, with rumours over a deterioration of relations with Guardiola and speculation surrounding whether or not he will sign a new contract at the Etihad Stadium providing unhelpful background noise.

However, even allowing for the impressive attacking options at his disposal – including Phil Foden, who has edged Sterling out of the left-wing berth at City – England boss Gareth Southgate still counts the former Liverpool player as a key man.

"I think he'll pull through, he's pulled through difficult situations before," Onuoha told Stats Perform.

"For the last two or three years, Raheem's been playing so well that that's been his position and nobody's been able to [get him out of the City team].

"But a slight drop off in performances, for whatever reason, grants somebody else an opportunity, and [Foden] took the opportunity and he's played exceptionally well.

"I think Raheem understands that because he's somebody who's been at the club long enough. He's happy at the club, it seems. I think he will sign a new long-term deal because it sounds like there's discussions about it.

"This is somebody who, when Fernandinho was not on the field, has worn the captain's armband. So he understands it, he understands the manager and he understands he wants to play and make a big difference."

Since featuring prominently in England's run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, where Sterling's tireless running along Harry Kane did not yield any returns in terms of getting on the scoresheet, he has underlined his importance to Southgate.

Sterling has 12 goals for the Three Lions across all matches post-Russia 2018, bettered only by skipper Harry Kane (15).

When penalties are taken out of the equation, Sterling actually comes out on top by 11 to 10, while his six assists are second to Kane's nine.

Nevertheless, this sample size spans almost three years, taking in a purple patch of career-best form in 2019 that the player is now straining to rediscover.

A surprise recall for City's 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea in Porto last month proved underwhelming, but Onuoha pointed towards Sterling's inclusion in the EFL Cup final win over Tottenham in April.

He turned in an all-action performance for Guardiola, making five attempts on goal and winning the free-kick that led to Aymeric Laporte heading the only goal.

"There were points in the season where people were questioning his performances and then I remember him playing in the League Cup final and I thought he was exceptional," Onuoha said.

"He didn't look like somebody who was lacking confidence, he looked like somebody who was desperate to play well enough to guarantee himself more football going forward.

"And I think when you are driven and competitive in the way that he is, it's a shame that you're not playing [for your club], but you kind of understand it.

"As well as that, it's not something that puts a weight on your shoulders; it's something that inspires you to get better.

"At City, there are people who thrive under that type of pressure - as a consequence, it makes them perform better. I think Raheem falls right into that category."

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