Raheem Sterling was England’s star at Euro 2020 — but his Three Lions place currently looks under threat ahead of the World Cup.
The Chelsea forward has been struggling for form under manager Graham Potter, who has deployed him in an unfamiliar left wing-back role since taking over at Stamford Bridge.
Ahead of the Blues’ home clash with Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, we turn the spotlight on Sterling’s struggles.
The £50million capture of Sterling from Manchester City was one of Chelsea’s marquee signings of their first summer under owner Todd Boehly.
Manager Thomas Tuchel hailed the four-time Premier League winner as his No1 priority with plans to make him the focal point of his attack — citing his ability to feature across the frontline as a key trait.
Starting as one of the forwards alongside Kai Havertz, there were signs of Sterling finding his feet at his new club after netting three goals across two games against Leicester and Southampton at the end of August.
But just two matches later, Tuchel was sacked and the former QPR youngster found himself having to settle in under a new boss already.
While his predecessor wanted to use Sterling across the attack, new man Potter has further stretched his tactical versatility by playing him at wing-back.
It initially looked to be a masterstroke from the former Brighton tactician, with Sterling cutting inside and scoring the first goal of his managerial reign in a 1-1 draw with FC Salzburg in September.
But the 79-cap international has only one goal involvement since — assisting Reece James’ strike against AC Milan — and has regularly shifted between right and left wing-back as well as being deployed in the front three.
The Blues are now without a victory in three Premier League games, including a 4-1 reverse at Potter’s former club Brighton last Saturday.
That has plunged the 47-year-old coach’s unconventional deployment of Sterling further into the spotlight, with the West Londoners’ No17 not even able to muster a shot in his last three outings.
Attacking drop off
There has been a noticeable shift in Sterling’s effectiveness in the final third since his switch to the English capital.
While his game time reduced under City boss Pep Guardiola last term, he was regularly used as one of the three forward players in the Catalan’s 4-3-3 when he did feature.
This season, Sterling is shooting 1.87 times per 90 minutes, as well as attempting take-ons 3.43 times and completing 10.6 final third passes, with all those metrics significantly lower than his figures in 2021-22.
That he is now picking up the ball deeper is perhaps illustrated by his 1.56 final third entries per 90 this term — up from 0.97 during his final season for City.
A talking point
With Sterling’s wait for a goal now stretching to eight games, Potter has backed his player to bounce back to form soon.
The Solihull-born boss said: “It’s not something we have to zoom in to one person. As a team, we can do better, and if we do better as a team, then individuals will benefit from that, so that’s where the work is.
“He’s got the flexibility, ability and quality to play in several positions. It’s not straightforward with losing the players we have [to injury].
“So you’re constantly trying to find the right balance, and find the right solutions. But he can help us in a number of positions.”
And while Sterling has shown willingness to adapt to his new role and system, he has admitted it is not his preferred role.
He recently said: “I feel my best position is a winger, that’s for sure.
“But the manager has his way of playing and he’s not had a full preseason with us, he was dropped in the middle of a storm, really.
“He has grabbed it with both hands and he is trying to figure out the best personnel for positions. I keep saying, with time it will all gel nicely.”
England place at risk?
With the World Cup kicking off in just under three weeks, what is currently Potter’s problem is fast becoming Gareth Southgate’s.
Ex-Chelsea winger Pat Nevin thinks it is becoming harder to justify Sterling’s place in the XI at Qatar.
The 59-year-old said: “I’m watching Raheem Sterling right now and I’ve said that Graham Potter has got the best from every player since he has been there, with one exception — Raheem Sterling.
“If he keeps playing the way he is right now, he’s not even a consideration for the World Cup. He is having a really really bad time.”
Been here before
Southgate has recently shown willingness to stick with players who have performed well in an England shirt previously and it is hard to think of someone who fits that category better than Sterling.
He has 19 goals in his 79 international appearances, with only Harry Kane managing more among players selected in the last squad in September.
In the lead-up to the European Championship in 2021, many were questioning the then City man’s place in the side following a patchy end to the season.
But that decision was quickly justified, with Sterling netting three goals and an assist during the Three Lions’ run to the final.
With similar noise surrounding the build-up to this tournament, Southgate will hope Sterling can respond in the same way in Qatar.