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Raheem Sterling started the 2019/20 campaign like a man possessed.
He netted in the Community Shield triumph over Liverpool and bagged a hat-trick in the opening-day demolition of West Ham United before taking his tally to five in three with strikes against Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth.
He continued to find the back of the net with alarming regularity and his brace against Wolverhampton Wanderers on December 27 took his tally to 11 in 18 matches. He was well on-track to eclipse his career-high 18 goals in a single season, something he achieved during the 2017/18 campaign. He followed up his 29 goal involvements that season with 27 last year, ten of which were assists.
At the turn of the year, he was on 11 goals and one assist. Now in March, Sterling has failed to add to either of those totals.
In Manchester City‘s defeat to neighbours Manchester United, Aaron Wan-Bissaka handled the England international well and Sterling completed just one of the three dribbles he attempted. He was limited to three shots and tested David de Gea with two of them. Remarkably, prior to that game, the 25-year-old had landed just one shot on target in the Premier League in his last 350 minutes on the pitch.
His total now stands at three in 440 minutes.
City haven’t been reliant on Sterling for goals and went into the Manchester derby having won all of their matches following the winter break. But his form will no doubt be a worry for Pep Guardiola and the coaching staff at the Etihad.
In the first half of the season, Sterling was outperforming his expected metrics but was devaluing his shots with poor finishing. That is clear when comparing his post-shot expected goals to his expected goals. A difference of 0.06 doesn't sound like much but, over a 38-game season, that is close to three goals. Potentially three match-winning goals.
That he'd been exceeding his post-shot expected goals average by 0.11 highlights the fact he'd been rather fortunate; perhaps his early-season form wasn't as sustainable as first appeared.
Since the loss to Wolves, Sterling's form has dramatically declined. This coincides with the loss of Mikel Arteta to Arsenal. The former City assistant coach worked closely with the No.7 and perhaps his departure has had an adverse impact on the versatile forward.
Over this period, Sterling's expected goals average has dropped to 0.43 per 90. That figure shows he's still getting into dangerous areas on a regular basis. His post-shot expected goals average, however, explains why he's now under intense scrutiny.
Sterling's finishing is letting him down. He's devaluing his efforts by 0.28 on a per 90 basis.
He's only taking 0.5 fewer shots per 90 and still having a high number of touches in the opposition's penalty area. In fact, the 7.55 he manages puts him in the top Premier League's top ten. The expected goals average of 0.43 shows he's still getting opportunities, too. He should be amongst the goals.
It is worth noting City are underperforming their post-shot expected average, too. But only by 0.04 per 90. So it isn't as if others have tailed off. It appears to be just Sterling having issues putting the ball into the back of the net.
When you look at his shot placement map, everything becomes a little clearer. Yes, Sterling may be getting into good areas but his finishing has been atrocious. Of the 14 shots he's had, only three have been on target. Furthermore, two of those have been right down the middle of the goal.
Sterling has always been a volume player. He's never been what you would describe as ‘clinical' in the sense one shot means one goal. But playing in a rampant City side has papered over his wastefulness at times.
Now, however, with service a little scarcer than what he's used to, his finishing is exposed.
If he's going to get back to his best, Pep Guardiola needs to find ways to get Sterling more involved again. He needs more touches in the box and more shots in general. If they're unable to do that, Sterling isn't at his effective best and he's nowhere near as dangerous.