Sunday, June 26, 2022

Why Raheem Sterling could be the missing link in Thomas Tuchel’s attacking puzzle

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The 27-year-old has been heavily linked with a move to Stamford Bridge and could provide the shot on goal that Romelu Lukaku missed

Corresponding Sky Sports, the Blues have offered £35m for the 27-year-old but City are saying they are closer to £60m if they are set to sell this summer. Sterling’s contract expires in 2023, hence the knockdown fee.

Chelsea intend to sign Raheem Sterling from Manchester City in what would be a significant statement of intent from the club’s new owner Todd Boehly.

The England international has played a crucial role in City’s success since joining from Liverpool for £49million in 2015, helping the club win four Premier League titles, four Carabao Cups, an FA Cup and their first Champions League -Reach club final in 2021 They were beaten by Chelsea.

Sterling has scored 131 goals in 339 games for the club and is the second-highest Premier League goalscorer to be scored in a City shirt after Sergio Aguero, further underscoring his influence at Etihad.

Few players have contributed as much to City’s success during Pep Guardiola’s trophy-rich era as Sterling, but his place in the starting XI has been less secure in recent years.

Sterling started in just 23 Premier League games in 2021/22, which was his lowest total in an entire season since Guardiola became city manager in 2016. Guardiola has a wealth of wide players capable of playing on the flanks in Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Julian Alvarez.

And with City’s front line set to be shaken after the £51million arrival of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, Sterling might think regular playing time at Stamford Bridge would be more likely – which is what happens this season with the start of the World Cup is particularly relevant in November.

Like Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel is expected to make big changes to his attack and Romelu Lukaku is expected to return to Inter Milan after a disappointing season in west London. Negotiations are ongoing between Chelsea and Inter over a loan deal for Lukaku, who returned to the Blues for a club-record £97.5million last August.

While Sterling wouldn’t be an equivalent replacement for Lukaku, given the Belgian’s struggles, it seems unlikely that Tuchel would want a player with that profile anyway. Lukaku only scored 15 goals in 44 games and Chelsea tended to appear more united when he wasn’t involved.

However, Lukaku was far from the only Chelsea player struggling to score. Although Chelsea were only surpassed by Manchester City and Liverpool last season, Mason Mount was the top scorer at 11 and the only player to score in double figures. Kai Havertz and Lukaku each scored eight goals, Christian Pulisic scored six times and Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner registered four each.

Despite a relatively quiet season by his standards, Sterling still managed 13 league goals and his efficiency in front of goal would certainly come in handy at Stamford Bridge.

Tuchel has used more of a 3-4-3 formation throughout his time at Chelsea. However, the roles of wingers in the front three have often been adjusted depending on whether Tuchel has chosen fast wingers to stretch the game (Werner, Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi) or creative playmakers to limit it (Mount, Havertz , Ziyech).

Sterling has played in both roles for City and occasionally at centre, but his most productive stint under Guardiola came when he played as a right winger between 2017 and 2020. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, Sterling recorded 18 goals and 11 assists; 17 goals and 10 assists; and 20 goals and one assist. During this time, Sterling excelled at timing his runs to the far post to score tap-ins, or to get to the touchline to pull the ball back to a teammate to finish inside the box.

Given how important width is to Chelsea’s attacking game, Tuchel would probably use it that way. The full-backs – typically Reece James and Ben Chilwell – are integrated, running high and wide to fire crosses into the box or finish moves at the back post. Adding an accomplished penalty box finisher to the side would give James and Chilwell an additional target to choose from.

Sterling has also become accustomed to playing in a side that doesn’t have a traditional focus on the No 9 position, which could come in handy should Havertz become Chelsea’s main centre-forward. More of a playmaker than a finisher, Havertz, unlike Lukaku, has exceptional movement and the ability to create scoring chances for his teammates.

Seeing Sterling in a royal rather than a sky blue shirt would take some getting used to, but it would be a deal that would make a lot of sense for both the player and the buyer.

By Daniel Storey I‘s chief football writer

Having completed the takeover saga as quickly and painlessly as anyone could have wished, Chelsea are now heading into the summer far better than expected. The group led by Todd Boehly have paid a heavy price to acquire a super-club and there would be little point for them or Chelsea to cut spending significantly this summer.

After a good season at best, Thomas Tuchel has the means to improve the squad. Chelsea’s only trophies were legacies from 2020-21, the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup.

Antonio Rudiger’s departure leaves a huge void and was one of the hangovers of ownership uncertainty that dogged Chelsea’s form on the pitch from February. Jules Kounde has long been a target and Chelsea could well pull it off, albeit at a significant premium. Even then, Thiago Silva will be a year older and Andreas Christensen has also left on a free transfer. Kounde will not suffice.

The forward situation needs sorting because if Tuchel stays it’s hard to see Romelu Lukaku playing a role. That leaves Chelsea exactly where they seem to be since Diego Costa left and need a No.9 presence that will be productive without stepping on the toes of the attacking midfielders behind them. Chelsea are a big draw for potential signings (trophies, wages, location) but some strikers need to look at how others have struggled and wonder if it’s the right home for them.

With the return of Ben Chilwell and the blossoming of Reece James, the full-backs/first-choice full-backs and central midfield appear to be fine. But that could all then depend on the renewal of expiring contracts. N’Golo Kante and Jorginho both have contracts ending next summer, as do Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso. In each of these positions, securing the future by recruiting younger players this summer would make a lot of sense.

After all, Tuchel would certainly not be averse to another winger, since neither Hakim Ziyech nor Christian Pulisic have reached their desired heights. That’s probably dependent on a sale or two, but Raheem Sterling’s name keeps coming up.

Read Daniel’s full article here

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