Time to live up to price tag, Sterling
Inconsistent winger must deliver at former club to keep City's title dream alive
LIVERPOOL v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 4am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Even in Wembley's players' lounge, Raheem Sterling failed to shake off a Liverpool opponent.
An angry Reds supporter grabbed him, swore at him and called him "Judas" before being dragged away by security.
The ugly incident after Manchester City's League Cup win rather sums up Sterling's haphazard season.
Even those rare moments of triumph are somehow sullied for the frustrated winger.
Every achievement comes with an asterisk. His past always seems to overshadow the present.
Despite his obvious endeavour, Sterling remains an incomplete £49-million ($95.7m) player still in search of an identity.
For the second time in four days, he faces his former club.
He returns to Anfield tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in an English Premier League contest that City must win and Sterling dare not lose.
Liverpool built his pedestal. Now they seek to kick it away, to humiliate the greedy one who slinked away in search of petro-dollars and polished silver.
Sterling acquired both at Wembley, and against his former club to boot, but any sense of personal redemption was overwhelmed by an anti-climatic performance. His team won against Liverpool, but he didn't beat them.
If anything, the reverse happened.
The inevitable booing began while he was still in the dressing room.
By the time, he trotted out in those garish orange boots, red faces raged against the maverick. Liverpool's punters and players willed him to fail.
The crowd abused him. Nathaniel Clyne smashed him. Sterling almost wilted.
He was poor in City's previous league game against Tottenham. At Wembley, he was abject, looking less like a record signing than a broken record, constantly jumping around without really making sense.
On two occasions, he encapsulated his erratic season with a couple of calamitous misses.
Twice, he broke free with the ball at his feet and his name being pencilled into large-font headlines. And twice, he screwed his shot wide.
City defeated Liverpool in spite of Sterling, not because of him. He didn't even take one of the spot-kicks.
There are rumours that he was down for the fifth penalty, which seems rather apt. His services were not required. City won without him.
In some ways, Sterling has come to represent the perceived greed that rules the dressing room, the latest overpaid City footballer not delivering anything like the explosive pyrotechnics currently on display at Leicester City.
Liverpool's fans were keen to point out that "there's only one greedy b******" at City, when of course there isn't.
David Silva and Sergio Aguero didn't head to Manchester for its balmy sunsets. They went for the money and the medals, just like Sterling.
But there are obvious differences.
Silva and Aguero didn't engineer their moves in disastrous PR campaigns that painted them as selfish, cash-obsessed egotists. Even if Sterling is none of those things, that's how he inadvertently sold himself to the world.
More importantly, Silva and Aguero are footballers content in their own skin, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and an impressive track record.
Sterling isn't even sure of his position, either in the starting line-up or on the pitch.
His acceleration makes him a natural winger, but Manuel Pellegrini's favoured 4-2-3-1 system, relying on inverted wide men drifting inside to support Yaya Toure and Aguero, doesn't always play to Sterling's strengths.
And a nifty dribbler and crosser, admittedly a rare commodity these days, doesn't particularly favour Aguero's natural attributes either.
It's not that Sterling isn't blessed with the raw talent to adapt his game. It's just that he's taking a long time to get there in a league not renowned for its patience.
In terms of potential, he appears to be following Theo Walcott's route to greatness. It could be some time before he reaches his final destination, certainly long after Pellegrini has moved on.
In the meantime, he owes his Chilean benefactor a star turn.
If the 21-year-old can't find the consistency befitting a £50m signing, he'll have to settle for a high-priced cameo on a stage where he once flourished.
City desperately need Sterling to step up. They lost their previous two EPL games. A third defeat would sound the death knell for their title plans, as the home crowd will gleefully point out at every opportunity.
Sterling left Liverpool claiming the Reds could not match his ambition. He saw the club as little more than a springboard.
If he doesn't win tomorrow morning, Anfield will feel like a trapdoor.
He's a young man, a young player starting his career, but he knows how to deal with pressure... he'll be a very important player (tomorrow), as he was in the last game.
— Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini on Raheem Sterling
Raheem can handle the Boo-boys
Raheem Sterling can expect plenty of boos from the crowd when he returns to face his former Liverpool teammates at Anfield for the first time tomorrow morning (Singapore time) but Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is confident his winger can handle it.
Sterling was loudly abused by the Liverpool fans throughout Sunday's League Cup final at Wembley, which City won on penalties, and the fixture list has thrown up an instant rematch in the Premier League.
Pellegrini (above) said yesterday that Sterling, who became a hate figure for Liverpool fans after his £49 million ($95.7m) move to City last July, was a definite on the team list.
"I don't know what the starting 11 will be yet, but one player who I'm sure will start is Raheem Sterling," said the Chilean, whose side are fourth in the table and nine points adrift of leaders Leicester City, albeit with a game in hand.
"He's a young man, a young player starting his career, but he knows how to deal with pressure," Pellegrini added.
"He'll receive the same treatment tomorrow as he did at the weekend, but I'm sure he can play without a problem, and he'll be a very important player, as he was in last game."
Sterling, whose transfer was a record for an English player, missed two easy chances at Wembley - to the delight of Liverpool fans - and will want to make amends.
Pellegrini said he had no doubts about 21-year-old England international and it was important for him to play.
"I have 100 per cent trust in Raheem. He will play tomorrow and he'll be important," he said.
"I think in the way he played the other day he demonstrated - maybe he missed a goal - he worked, was always concentrated, and he was difficult for (Liverpool defender) Nathaniel Clyne one on one."
Pellegrini would not reveal who he will select in goal, after goalkeeper Willy Caballero's shoot-out heroics on Sunday dominated the headlines in Joe Hart's absence.
"It's a very easy decision," he said. "We'll see tomorrow."
Midfielder Yaya Toure is doubtful with a foot injury and faces a late fitness check.
- Arsenal v Swansea
- Stoke v Newcastle
- West Ham v Tottenham
- Man United v Watford
FA satisfied with ref's decision on Toure
Referee Michael Oliver is set to escape censure for failing to send off Yaya Toure at the end of Manchester City's penalty shootout win over Liverpool in Sunday's League Cup final.
Had Oliver applied the letter of the law, he should have issued Toure a second yellow card for removing his shirt as he wheeled away in triumph after stroking the winner past Simon Mignolet.
However, Press Association Sport understands the Football Association is satisfied that Oliver took the common-sense approach since the game had finished.
Earlier, Oliver had issued a yellow card to Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho for removing his shirt after scoring the 83rd-minute equaliser.
The Fifa rule, established in 2004, states: "Removing one's shirt after scoring is unnecessary and players should avoid such excessive displays of joy."
- PA Sport.