The Three Lions have been on a rampage of late, with Gareth Southgate’s boys making it all the way to the World Cup semi final for the first time in 28 years.
Every player is in the form of their life: Jordan Pickford is Gordon Banks, Harry Maguire is Bobby Moore, Harry Kane is Geoff Hurst. Every player is loved and adored, all except Raheem Sterling.
Poor old Raheem has received a fair bit of criticism over the last few months. Whether it be for getting a tattoo of a gun on his leg as a tribute to his father, or his inability to score for England. However, nearly all of this criticism is unjust. Sterling has done pretty much everything right, bar scoring, and England are a better side with the Manchester City winger in the team.
The reason is his movement and speed, something which is crucial to any side’s offence. Sterling offers this in abundance. Sterling’s main role in the side is not to create space for himself, but to create space for the likes of Lingard, Alli and Kane.
When Sterling drops deep he takes a defender or defensive midfielder with him, and this opens up space in the middle of the park from which England can build attacks.
When Sterling gets in behind the defence, this not only moves England up the pitch, but also creates space between the opposition’s back four and midfield so Harry Kane can operate, and score the goals that are so crucial to his game.
Sterling’s work rate also offers an unpredictable edge to England’s play. He is quick enough to come short to either help a midfielder in distress or act as a link between wing backs Trippier and Young to Kane in the box.
Alternatively, he is also fast enough to retrieve a booming through ball from midfield talisman Jordan Henderson. Sterling’s ability to move around the park so quickly means Kane does not have to focus on retrieving the ball so much or hurrying down defenders, giving him the ability to ghost into space more easily.
Marcus Rashford could arguably perform the same role, but he is not as quick as Sterling, nor does he have the intelligence in his movement that Sterling possesses.
Another reason why Gareth Southgate should start Sterling is that it keeps the side more settled. England’s World Cup campaign has been a definite success so there is no need to make unnecessary changes to a side that is on such a role.
To drop Sterling may create uncertainty in the England camp and may lead to Southgate having to subtle changes to his play-style and tactics which may disrupts the rest of the team’s form.
Finally, if Sterling does start and England go into the last 30 or 20 minutes level or even losing, then they have a greater abundance of impact subs who can be brought onto the pitch when the Three Lions are desperate for a goal.
Southgate would rather be bringing on proven goalscorers such as Vardy and Rashford when England are in crisis, as opposed to bringing on Sterling who, as good as he has been, is still short of confidence in front of goal. By starting Sterling, England have a better plan B late in the game.
For all you cricket fans, Raheem Sterling is very similar to Ashley Giles in the 2005 Ashes. At the time, the press were very critical of Giles for his lack of wickets, however the England squad and management core saw him as invaluable to their cause as the Australians struggled to score runs against him.
England went on to win the Ashes that summer. Sterling is exactly the same: he might not be doing what the media or the fans believe he should be doing, but he is perfectly fulfilling the role that helps the team succeed, and therefore England are a better side with Raheem Sterling starting.