It’s been a season of unbelievable highs for Manchester City. Two trophies already secured. Club and Premier League records broken, with plenty more significant milestones within reach. It could hardly have gone much better on the domestic front.
Finish strongly and we are likely to have registered the most dominant Premier League campaign of all time, with the most goals, points and wins ever managed in a single season.
Key to much of that has been Raheem Sterling, a player who has improved drastically over the last 12 months. His pace and direct style have always made him dangerous, but under the guidance of Pep Guardiola he’s developed various other facets of his game and is now one of the most complete and dangerous attacking players in the English top flight.
He looks stronger than before, capable of retaining possession no matter the pressure he’s under from opposition defenders. His passing in tight areas has progressed. His awareness of his teammates and appreciation of space now far better than before.
But, most notably, he’s added serious end product to his game.
The numbers tell their own story. In 2016-17, he scored 7 Premier League goals and assisted 6, managing direct goal involvement every 193 minutes. This season, he's bagged 18 and set up 11, meaning he has contributed a vital statistic every 83 minutes. His shot conversion rate has risen 10% in the same period. By anyone’s standard, that is a substantial upturn in form.
16-17: Goals 7, Assists 6, Shot conversion 17%, Mins per goal/assist 193
17-18: Goals 18, Assists 11, Shot conversion 27%, Mins per goal/assist 83
Much of that is down to timing of his runs. Sterling has a knack of being in the right place at the right time and it's paying dividends.
He’s scored 23 in all competitions, which, for a player who starts in wide areas, is a remarkable number. But perhaps most significantly, many of those goals have been vital. He scored crucial late goals against Everton, Bournemouth, West Brom, Feyenoord, Huddersfield, Southampton and Newcastle, without which our special season would not have been possible.
And one thing is for certain, under Guardiola, Sterling will not be allowed to rest on his laurels. "The problem will be next season where he has to compete with what he has done,” Guardiola said recently. “He has to work harder but he is able to learn he is going to win an important Premier League and that will help for his confidence and so on."
He’s now one short of his 50th Premier League goal. If he gets it, he will become only the 11th player to reach that milestone while under the age of 24.
It would be a fitting end to his finest season as a professional if he were to get it on Sunday when we lift the Premier League trophy.
If you want to relive the best moments from a truly memorable season, visit our Beautiful Football hub: https://www.mancity.com/beautifulfootball