It was a remarkable season for Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling, with the England international stepping up into the world class bracket for the first time.
The 24-year-old scored 25 goals and picked up 18 assists in all competitions for the Premier League champions last season, earning him the FWA Football of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year awards.
After such a superb campaign, Sterling’s FIFA 20 Ultimate Team card is bound to an improvement, but could he become the best player on the game?
RealSport looks at why this should be the case.
Into the limelight
Before last season, Raheem Sterling was obviously not a bad player, but something was missing. In 2017/18 he bagged 23 goals and 17 assists – only a marginally weaker year than last season, as City secured the Premier League title.
Of course, this season was more successful, with more goals, more assists and more silverware, but Sterling, still only 24, was seen as a senior figure on the field.
Sterling played in 51 games across all competitions last term, six as sub, which put him fifth as the player with the most appearances in the City squad. He had the greatest output of that five, with star striker Sergio Aguero the only man to outscore Sterling with 32 goals.
When manager Pep Guardiola wanted more control and essentially played four central midfielders (Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva, David Silva & Ilkay Gundogan/Kevin De Bruyne), he would have to sacrifice a winger, with Bernardo featuring on the right-hand side.
With Sterling, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez as his options, you would have forgiven the former Barcelona manager in rotating the three of them – saving two as impact players of the bench – but more often than not it was Sterling in the starting berth.
The former Liverpool man started 45 games over the season, compared to Sane’s 30 and Mahrez’s 28. This underlines how his dribbling, positioning and newfound finishing are integral to Guardiola’s plans.
Leroy Sane has most often been seen on the left wing of Man City, and Mahrez more familiar on the right, and that can even be extended to Bernardo Silva.
The lineup at the start of the season featured Sterling on the Sane on the left, but when Sane was rotated out for Mahrez or Bernardo, it was Raheem who moved over to the left-hand side.
This is what helped his goal scoring prowess, with the number 7 almost playing as a second striker, or inside forward to Sergio Aguero.
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He became for comfortable in the box, finding the space, and was rewarded with his most fruitful campaign of his career.
The mental side of the game is what improves as players get older, and Sterling’s clear football intelligence is what can push him towards the top end of players on the planet.
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Cracking the international scene
Ever since Sterling broke through at Liverpool he had been doing the business. In his first full season he only scored two goals, but this progressed to 10 the following and 11 in his final campaign there.
He moved to City and scored 11 then 10, before the big season of 17-18 where he notched 23. His 25 goals in 51 games last term was actually a slightly weaker ratio than the previous campaign, but the most important aspect for most was he finally shone on the international circuit.
In his first 45 international games, Raheem Sterling only scored two goals for England. At last year’s World Cup he was the one England player who lacked that cutting edge, and at times even looked frightened to score.
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England’s 3-2 win over Spain was the moment that all changed. He took his confidence and form from club level to a huge UEFA Nations League clash, scoring twice and defeating La Roja 3-2 in Seville. Two games later, he was in the goals again, bagging a hat trick in a 5-0 demolition of the Czech Republic in Euro 2020 qualification.
In a four game spell he scored six goals and can now be relied upon for the Three Lions.
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Coming of age
Still a young man at 24, you could have forgiven the lack of consistency of Sterling in the past. The maturity and ruthlessness we saw last season is what you see of a seasoned pro, with names like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi the calibre of players who can perform week-in, week-out.
His peak may still be two seasons’ away, but expect his rating to rise dramatically this year on FIFA 20. With a 90+ rating excepted for the right or left winger.
Dribbling stats should be off the charts, with his finishing likely to jump immensely from 77 and into the 80s.
The competition crumbling?
We mention age, and you have to look at where the best players’ in the world are at in their careers. Cristiano Ronaldo is now 34 and did set the world alight in his first season in Italy, and Lionel Messi’s best days are behind him at 32.
Their 94 ratings may just hold for FIFA 20, but there have been calls for them to be dropped. Sterling, along with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Kylian Mbappe and Eden Hazard are part of the chasing pack, and could become the best player on the game in the near future.
Maybe a Champions League title is what stands in the way for all four players.
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