Raheem Sterling doesn’t exactly have the greatest relationship with Chelsea.
He’s been mocked by Eden Hazard, abused by racist fans, and is now splitting opinion amongst the fanbase on whether he would be a good use of transfer resources.
The 27-year-old only has a year left on his Manchester City contract and will reportedly cost upwards of £40m for Todd Boehly to bring him in, which is not cheap for a player with such little contract time left to run.
That price tag is justified though. This is a player with over 300 appearances for Manchester City, more than 100 Premier League goals, potentially moving to a direct Premier League rival.
For the Blues, he could also be exactly what they need.
How respectable is Sterling’s time at City?
The old adage “I could score as a striker in that team” has arguably never been as potentially true as with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team. Just last season alone, seven players in the squad notched at least 10 goals or assists in the Premier League.
To compare their team with the Chelsea of last season is almost insulting. Sterling’s side registered enough non-penalty expected goals (value of non-penalty shooting chances) to score 82 goals, while Chelsea registered just 60.7. The difference between them is the same between Chelsea and Newcastle United, and only narrowly less than between Chelsea and Everton.
It means we have to take Raheem Sterling’s admittedly stellar record of 91 Premier League goals in 225 City appearances with a pinch of salt, as he cannot be expected to receive the same quality of chance he has at City.
What has been overlooked though is his ability to create chances, not necessarily through assists. He has registered an assist on average once every four games at City, but he contributes in other ways. He has won 18 penalties since the beginning of the 2016/17 season, the same Chelsea have as a squad with the last two seasons combined.
His dribbling, pace, and agility has shone for both City and England, as he can not only operate on the counter attack but also accelerate quickly enough to upset low-sitting deep blocks.
That magical key to disturb a defence that sits in a flat back four is something Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel have desperately been lacking after Eden Hazard moved to Real Madrid in 2019.
Stats aren’t particularly needed to describe the problems Chelsea have faced this season, if you have been watching Thomas Tuchel’s side at least semi-regularly.
Yes, they had an incredibly stressful end to the season as the club nearly imploded in on itself. Yes, they had a striker who was seemingly plotting a move to the team he had just left barely 25% of the way into the campaign. Yes, this is a squad that played in five competitions and reached two cup finals.
However, it’s plain to see that Chelsea cannot break down teams with a well organised defence. In the final half of the season, they scored just one or zero goals against Man City, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Newcastle, West Ham, Everton, Man United, and Leicester.
The stats also show that last season, Chelsea attempted the fourth most crosses in the league at 496 and only 14% of them were successful, compared to Liverpool (17%).
City also ranked poorly for this metric, but they can at least boast of taking the most shots inside the six yard box in the Premier League. Chelsea took less than Burnley.
Most of all though, Chelsea desperately lack a player who can regularly penetrate the box through direct runs and carries.
Only Callum Hudson-Odoi has shown promise in the carries-into-the-box metric over the past couple of seasons, with no one besides him averaging over 2 p90.
If the 20-year-old cannot remain fit though, then Chelsea will desperately need someone who can recreate his best output.
So how does Sterling solve it?
It’s in this regard where Raheem Sterling will make the biggest difference at Chelsea. The stats back up the fact he’s an excellent direct dribbler, as he sits sixth in the entire Premier League for carries into the penalty box p90.
Sterling’s skill set means he can fill this void, and his training from Pep Guardiola will make sure his impact can go further than dribbling. City’s build-up requires players to time their runs and passes perfectly, and having a player who can create and enact high-tempo sequences will again help Chelsea get rid of their defensive enemies.
The price may feel high, but there’s few players in world football who can bring the playstyle that Sterling does to a Champions League level standard. He gives Tuchel every tool in the attacking toolbox, and leaves Chelsea with very few excuses should they not start firing on all cylinders next season
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