Sterling to Chelsea would possibly pose a fitting move for both player and league – The Conventional Playmaker

With only a year left to Raheem Sterling’s contract at Manchester City, and the winger reportedly wanting to move elsewhere, could we see another notable exchange between two “big six” clubs in England, with Chelsea interested?

Exchanges between the “big six” clubs isn’t very regular, but it is not necessarily unusual, and could well easily be more of a frequent occurrence.

Chelsea have been known to buy from rivals. Ashley Cole controversially made his way from Arsenal in 2006, with William Gallas moving in the opposite direction. Fernando Torres was signed from Liverpool five years later for a then club-record £50m fee. And with English clubs holding most of the financial power in the modern game, they are likelier to afford each other’s talents than clubs from the continent.

So although Real Madrid have also been linked with acquiring Sterling’s signature, with it perhaps being the better route to broadening his footballing horizons, with Sterling previously citing the want to play abroad at some point, could he be a good fit for Chelsea?

On paper, Chelsea would have one of the world’s best wide forwards on their hands. Sterling is a goal threat, with a respectable 131 goals in 339 games for City. Sterling is capable of scoring a wide range of goals, but he is particularly potent when inside the penalty-area. Sterling is excellent at drifting inside from either right or left wing, and finding space in the box to then receive crosses from wider positions, or pounce on a loose ball in the box.

Evidently, Sterling has, in the past year, averaged 8.59 touches in the opposition penalty-area per 90, according to FBref, which is very high amongst attacking players. He is active in the box, and in many cases, is on the end of a goal scoring chance.

Further insight through graphics provided by both StatsBomb and Understat show just how many of Sterling’s shots occur inside the box, especially at this stage in his career. Sterling is capable of shooting and scoring from outside the box, but he is even more of a threat in the box. All of Sterling’s goals from last season, for example, came from within the box.

StatsBomb’s graphic shows that although Sterling’s shots from the 18 yard-box can test the goalkeeper with an xG of 0.2 in one case, his shots are more frequent and more threatening when in the box. But it also shows that Sterling has at points missed chances close to goal, but even with this, provides a bigger goal threat than other wide/inside-forward options Chelsea have at their disposal.

Sterling can also arrive in the box following a run made in behind the defence – either vertical or diagonal run. This would perhaps suit the role of an inside-forward in Chelsea’s current 3-4–2-1 set-up.

Why? Sterling would arguably provide runs whilst the centre-forward, say, Kai Havertz, drops into deeper space to help link play. Sterling’s runs would be a great way to utilise vacated space, not only vacated by Havertz, but perhaps by a defender moving out of space to track Havertz, but also to stretch the opposition defensive line.

Both sides employ a structured attack, but unlike City, much of Chelsea’s width in the aforementioned set-up is provided by their wing-backs. This may suggest that Sterling would have even more licence to roam the final-third to support build-up as it reaches ever closer to goal, and to arrive late in the box.

Sterling is also a threat when he is afforded the space to drive forward and cut inside, averaging 2.19 dribbles per 90, and 7.70 progressive carries per 90, as per FBref. He offers a complementary style to Mason Mount which could work in the current set-up.

But would City be wrong to sell? Jack Grealish and Phil Foden are both capable options on City’s left side. Grealish, for example, is a more effective passer in the final-third, and wins more fouls. But both Grealish and Foden are different profiles to Sterling, and if Sterling’s qualities are not replaced, City would lack a feature to their attack they previously had.

Perhaps that could be compensated for by the arrival of Erling Haaland; an out-and-out no.9, who’d look to dominate the box and whatever is sent his way when inside it. City may well return to a playing style that resembles the title winners of 2018, with counter-attacks at the heart of things, and plenty of crosses and cut-backs into the box for Haaland to convert. Though that may depend on the attitude towards games amidst the upcoming World Cup.

Nevertheless, Chelsea, or whoever may be set to sign Sterling, could easily benefit from his skill set. In that sense, it’s City’s loss, even if they are recruiting further attacking talent of their own.

Sources:, StatsBomb, Understat


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