Manchester City’s English midfielder Raheem Sterling (C) wriggles past Bournemouth’s South African-born English midfielder Andrew Surman (2L) and Bournemouth’s English defender Simon Francis (2R) during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Bournemouth at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on September 17, 2016.
PAUL ELLIS / AFP
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes winger Raheem Sterling has recaptured his best form in time for the club’s hectic festive programme in the Premier League.
Sterling, 22, made a superb start to the season under incoming manager Guardiola, but then the England winger endured a difficult period as he struggled to make an impression in games.
He produced a fine display last time out, though, as City came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 and ahead of Monday’s trip to Hull City, Guardiola believes he looks back to his old self.
“In the last game, Raheem came back to the level he started the season,” said Guardiola, whose side sit third in the table, seven points below leaders Chelsea.
“The last month and a half, he was a little bit down. But you can forget again how young he is and he needs to live a lot of experience to become more stable.
“But in general, his performance was high and we need this guy for one-against-one situations.”
Sterling has found the net six times in all competitions for City this season and Guardiola has urged the former Liverpool player to get into the penalty area more often.
“Sometimes I say to him, ‘You need to play wide, wide, wide and stay there and make action one-against-one,'” said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach.
“When he does that, it’s difficult for him to get into the box, but for example the first goal, I think it was against Sunderland, he played wide like a winger, but he arrived on the penalty spot.
“I think the strikers and the wingers, they have to move how they feel, especially in the last metres.
“Of course, he is not our top scorer, but he has to feel how beautiful it is to score goals, how important it is for the team, but for him as well.
“He scored a beautiful goal in the last game and he gave us a lot, especially during the first month and a half. He was our key, key player in front and of course we need him.”
– Snodgrass integral –
City are still without striker Sergio Aguero as he serves the final match of his four-game suspension, but midfielder Fernandinho is available after a three-match ban.
Captain Vincent Kompany (knee) and midfielders Ilkay Gundogan (knee) and Fabian Delph (groin) will miss out, while right-back Pablo Zabaleta is doubtful with a knee problem.
Hull manager Mike Phelan, who has no fresh injury concerns, thinks Scottish winger Robert Snodgrass will be integral to his side’s hopes of avoiding relegation from the top flight.
The Tigers are languishing three points from safety at the foot of the table, but Snodgrass’s form in front of goal has been one of the plus points of a testing campaign.
“I think he’s an important cog in the system. Robert’s scored goals, he’s played in a couple of positions and he’s enjoying it,” Phelan said.
“From now until the end of the season I think it’s important that he continues in that vein.
“He’s willing, he’s capable and he’s performed very, very well. He had an injury that question-marked whether he would recover. He has done and performed really well.”
Phelan is hopeful the Tigers can hang on to the Scotland international, scorer of seven goals in all competitions, when the transfer window re-opens in January.
“Any football club should be looking to keep their assets and he’s one of them,” said the former Manchester United assistant manager.
“Because of his contract situation, he’s under contract, so unless someone comes in with a huge amount of money which it would take to deliver somewhere else, he’s a Hull City player.”