Sterling had also started just seven league games in that span, two of them after the league title had already been stitched up and three of them ended in defeat – half of the total that City have suffered all season.

Sterling still managed to start 28 league games during the campaign, but finished with just 10 goals, exactly half the total he scored in just three more starts last season, and a dramatic drop from at 17 and 18 he scored in 2018-19 and 2017-18, respectively.

Given that this was a season in which Guardiola was barely relying on an Orthodox number nine and the drop in productivity is all the more alarming, low numbers that Sterling had not seen since his first two seasons at the Etihad when he had only scored in singles. The figures.

At the time, he was an emerging talent. Now Sterling is expected to be near the peak years of his career, a trajectory he seemed firmly committed to until the final months of the current campaign.

There was certainly never a lack of effort or tenacity on Sterling’s part but the touch and technique he has shown so consistently over the past few years seemed to have given up on him during this current time, as a result. , perhaps, from a crisis of confidence.

It certainly seemed so in the opening minutes against Chelsea when a brilliant pass from Ederson, and equally intelligent led by Sterling, took him past his marker Reece James for the first and last time of the night only. for a first touch of slack to deny the danger.

The moment won’t go unnoticed for Southgate who firmly believe in a player who has already played 61 times for his country despite his relatively tender years and who started all three World Cup qualifiers England won in March.

It could well be that Southgate will prove that Sterling is more of an automatic choice for his country than his club in the next Euros and Guardiola certainly has decisions to make this summer about his star.

The City manager has been asked in recent weeks over Sterling’s repeated exclusion from his starting lineup and has consistently replied that only Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez’s form prevented him from reaching one of the two broad positions. attack that Guardiola usually employs in his ideal formation in 4-3-3.

But, after having had a big ‘audition’ at Porto, it’s fair to say that Sterling, along with a number of his teammates, failed.

The forward is currently under contract with the Etihad until 2023 and talks of a contract extension have been suspended until the summer after Sterling changed representatives earlier this year.

Reports claim Sterling will seek a deal comparable to the one signed by Belgian playmaker Kevin De Bruyne earlier this season, for a salary said to be around £ 320,000 a week.

Despite their unlimited financial might, City operate a “sensitive” pay structure – by modern football standards – and may prove reluctant to agree to such terms for fear of the precedent they will set in negotiations with other big names. .

And, after his poor performance at Porto, it’s possible that Guardiola, in any case, would prefer to look elsewhere as he seeks to improve his squad next season.

Real Madrid are just one club known to have a long-standing interest in Sterling as former City manager Mikel Arteta and Arsenal could be added to the list of potential suitors although City are clearly looking for a significant financial return if they opted to allow it. to leave.


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