The 26-year-old has already scored three goals in four games at Euro 2020.
England’s campaign under Gareth Southgate at Euro 2020 until the group stages had been successful, but unimpressive in a nutshell. It was a classic pragmatic approach. One that we have often seen reap benefits on the international stage. However, an impressive 2-0 victory, with goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, over a German team that has been their kryptonite in recent years has changed everything.
Southgate’s measured and pragmatic approach turned a lot of heads. But, this time it was for the right reasons. It is amusing to see how little the approach matters when the result comes your way.
Moreover, Southgate is not oblivious to others’ opinions on his decision-making. He is aware of the repercussions of losing a game. If anything, his approach just highlights the faith he has in his squad. England have been praised for their defensive solidity. They are yet to concede a goal. But, it is Raheem Sterling, who truly hones an admirable story in this team.
Sterling arrived at Euro 2020 on the back of a mediocre season with Manchester City. He was welcomed with little warmth. With the likes of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in the squad, not many wanted Sterling to start. But, 44 matches into the tournament, Sterling has been England’s best player by a country mile.
He has scored three of England’s four goals in the tournament. His name is on the lips of every English fan. It is no one but him and Southgate that deserve the plaudits for a set of performances that not many saw coming. Southgate persisted with Sterling even when few saw logic in it.
Khel Now takes a look at why Southgate has a liking for Raheem Sterling and the qualities that have made him a success at the Euros.
A proven goalscorer
Sterling’s biggest positive is his knack for scoring goals. In the last four years for Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, he averages over 16 goals a season. Guardiola has turned him into a goalscoring menace.
Similarly, after a difficult start to his international career with two goals in 45 matches, Sterling has now scored 15 in his last 20 appearances. His recent numbers in an England shirt explain why Southgate has been so persistent with Sterling. The tactician relies on Sterling for the goalscoring threat he provides. The 26-year-old is also a key player in the system England play.
Southgate’s style of play & composition of starting lineup
Southgate’s England often operate as a 5-2-3 or a 4-2-3-1. England arguably have one of the best sets of full-backs in the tournament and they play an important role in Southgate’s system. Naturally, the wing-backs create width in the channels.
As for Southgate’s attacking contingent, Harry Kane leads the line and is an undisputed starter. Kane’s attributes include good hold-up play, clinical finishing and an imposing aerial presence. But, most importantly, it is his ability to drop deep and link-up play that makes him a lethal asset.
Southgate prefers to flank Kane with two different types of wingers. One, a creator who will receive the ball from deep and carry it. Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho are all wingers with such traits. On the other side, he prefers more direct wingers that provide his team with a goalscoring threat. These wingers need to have pace and the ability to make runs behind the defence to exploit spaces. Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford are often used in that role.
We have seen the best of Raheem Sterling in games against Croatia and Germany. In both games, he occupied wide positions and made darting runs towards the central areas. Ukraine, too, are a side that will provide England with space in the defensive third. So, it will not be a surprise to see Sterling succeed even more.
Off the ball movement
We have seen Harry Kane flourish with Son Heung-min at Tottenham and Raheem Sterling plays that role in the national setup. He offers similar off-the-ball movement and allows Kane to drop deeper. Kane’s poor form is a large reason why goals have come so sporadically for Southgate’s side. If Kane can build on the strong second half against Germany, he will help Sterling further improve his performances.
This ability of Sterling was best observed in the goal against Croatia. Both Foden and Kane dropped deep, dragging two defenders with them. Mason Mount cleverly drifted into the wide left region from the central and took a defender with him as well. Their off-the-ball movements left a gaping hole in the heart of the Croatian defence. Sterling used that space to make a darting run and finished the pass from Kalvin Philips to give England the lead.
Sterling may not be the most creative winger with high Shot Creating Actions (SCAs) or a high number of key passes. However, he is a traditional, pacy winger, who will get you a lot of goals. These characteristics are also why he gets a lot of criticism when his goals dry up.
Sterling has proven himself to be a player of immense quality. His response to criticism from all sides depicts a strong mentality and this is exactly why he is a regular in the national team. Southgate praised his levels of motivation and confidence and joked that he hopes people do not praise Sterling yet, so that he still has the motivation to prove them wrong.
If England are to go deep into this tournament, Raheem Sterling will have to play a pivotal role for Southgate and his team.