Euro 2020
          Stellar international form has to be factored in

          Why Sterling should start Euro 2020...

          2021/06/09 13:36
          Stephen Gillett

          From Talksport to the BBC, the stories pile up regarding Raheem Sterling being 'bang out of form' and how he has fallen behind even Jack Grealish in the pecking order ahead of England's European Championship opener against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday. 

          The BBC, in fact, invited fans to select their Three Lions XI for the Croatia clash and, after 275,000 votes, only eight players across England's ENTIRE 26-man squad received fewer selections than the Man City forward. 

          The platform for England's summer scapegoat is being laid and the negativity towards Stertling is baffling given that he's just won the Premier League at club level and excelled in the qualification campaign that earned England their place at this summer's finals. 

          Here are three reasons why Southgate is likely to stick with Sterling this Sunday:

          ©Getty / Michael Steele - The FA

          i) His outstanding form at international level

          After being hung out to dry after England's woeful performance at Euro 2016, Sterling bounced back in style and was central to his country reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Gareth Southgate's first major tournament as Three Lions boss.

          Although it's fair to say that Sterling lacked cutting edge in Russia three years ago - he registered just one assist - his pace and strength were key to England stretching teams and going so far in the tournament. 

          Since the World Cup, Sterling has indisputably been one of England's best players. Twelve goals and seven assists in 17 games across Nations League, Euro qualifiers and World Cup qualifiers tell their own story, with Sterling challenging Harry Kane (15 goals and nine assists in 21 games) as England's most productive player.

          ©Getty / Michael Regan

          ii) His mantelpiece

          Although controversy nevers seems too far away with Sterling, neither does the next piece of silverware. Since earning the wrath of Liverpool fans everywhere by swapping Anfield for the Etihad in 2015, the Wembley-born forward's decision to join Man City has been vindicated by a haul of 10 trophies in six seasons (3 Premier Leagues, 1 FA Cup, 5 League Cups and a Community Shield).

          Although Sterling's standing at City has suffered, with the likes of Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez playing larger roles, he was still an integral part of the Citizens' impressive return to the summit of English football last season. In fact, only Kevin De Bruyne (18) was involved in more Premier League goals for City than Sterling (17) in 2020/21.

          If England are to progress at these Euros, they will need players with winning mentalities drawn from successful sides: Sterling is one. 

          ©Getty / marc atkins

          iii) The alternatives

          There is no escaping the fact that Sterling hasn't enjoyed the best of seasons - and this England squad has some seriously strong competition in attack.

          To give some context to Sterling's tepid season, however: he was still involved in 17 Premier League goals (10 goals, 7 assists) in 2020/21. In England's Euro squad, only Harry Kane (23 goals, 14 assists) and Marcus Rashford (11 goals, 9 assists) managed more.

          Mention of Rashford is timely, as with Kane a shoe-in, the Man United forward, Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and Sterling are realistically vying for two starting spots between them. In addition, the likes of Phil Foden and Jack Grealish have played their way into the discussion. Here's a brief consideration of the merits of each of Sterling's rivals. 

          Rashford: Much like Sterling, Rashford was out of sorts for much of the latter part of the 2020/21 season. Playing with an ongoing shoulder issue hasn't helped, and the 23-year-old drew criticism in some quarters for his ineffective display in Man Utd's Europa League final defeat to Villarreal. However, Rashford has been a key man for the Red Devils and England, and is definitely a strong contender to start against Croatia on Sunday. 

          Sancho: Sterling and Rashford ended 2020/21 in questionable form, but with Jadon Sancho it was the other way around - the Dortmund assist machine enduring an indifferent first part of the season, only to click back into gear in recent months. Eight goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga since the turn of the year suggest Sancho has peaked just in time for the Euros. However, with three goals in 19 international appearances, has he done enough yet at international level to dislodge Sterling?

          Foden: Foden's emergence is impossible to ignore and he looks likely to force his way into England's starting line-up one way or another.

          As a direct rival to Sterling, Foden is a dangerous one - but with only six internationals under his belt, it is hard to see how Southgate could select the 21-year-old prodigy ahead of his City team-mate. Given Foden's versatility, it is not an either/or situation - the PFA Young Player of the Year can easily be deployed as part of a midfield three. 

          Grealish: The player being clearly championed by the media is Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish. Putting aside the fact, that he's a midfielder not a forward, Grealish simply hasn't done enough to push ahead of Sterling for a start.

          His progress over the past two seasons has been spectacular...but a) he plays for a mid-table Premier League club where the expectations and pressure are so much lower b) he's only started one competitive game for his country and c) he has been injured for most of 2021.  

          Start Sterling and see...

          It would be folly to claim that Sterling is, or should ever be, a guaranteed starter for his country and if Sancho and Rashford are training unbelievably well, you could conceivably see the logic of playing Sancho-Kane-Rashford.

          What makes more sense, however, is to start Sterling and see how he performs. If he fails to spark, Southgate can act accordingly. 

          Sterling's pedigree and stellar achievements for England over recent seasons should count for something, and if he is fit and firing he is a huge asset to the Three Lions. 

          As Southgate noted in the open letter he published yesterday, England's manager and his players will be judged on winning matches - and given his huge influence over recent years, Raheem Sterling has earned the chance to help the Three Lions kick off Euro 2020 with a win. 


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