Friday, August 19, 2022

Chelsea get instant upgrade with Raheem Sterling; what he brings tactically and what transfers may come next

Raheem Sterling has joined Chelsea from Manchester City in a deal worth $60 million. The England forward was Thomas Tuchel’s top attacking target and both clubs were never too far apart in valuation making for relatively smooth negotiations. The 27-year-old Sterling did, however, take his time to decide – a sensible approach given his age and knowing just how important the decision would be to his career, especially in a World Cup year.


Considering this, the role of both American chairman and minority owner Todd Boehly and Tuchel in swaying him to leave Manchester City shouldn’t be underestimated. Sterling appreciated the ample time Boehly gave him to make up his mind and was impressed by how approachable the Los Angeles Dodgers minority owner was. Tuchel outlined in meticulous detail Sterling’s role in the team as a left-sided forward (his preferred role), and he was both sold and excited following his chat with the Chelsea boss.

Sterling told City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain that he wanted a fresh challenge. And although Begiristain ideally wanted him to stay, the arrivals of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez meant City were never going to stand in Sterling’s way – especially not with just one year left on his contract and a healthy offer incoming.

From Sterling’s perspective, sources tell CBS Sports he wants to play every week – especially in a World Cup year – and believes he can put himself in the Ballon d’Or conversation by moving to Stamford Bridge.

Sterling joined his new teammates in Los Angeles on Wednesday, just in time for their trip to Las Vegas, where Chelsea play Club America on Saturday in their first preseason friendly.

There is excitement in the Chelsea dressing room at his arrival with two of his England teammates, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount , viewing Sterling as a statement signing.

What will Sterling bring?

Sterling is a proven goal scorer and serial winner. Last season, he won his fourth Premier League title under Pep Guardiola. Sterling contributed with 13 goals and five assists despite only starting 23 games. This return came from fewer shots per 90 minutes than Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz, yet all scored less. Tellingly, too, Sterling had more touches in the opposition box (8.93) per 90 minutes than any of Chelsea’s current forwards.

Sterling’s overall goal tally has actually eclipsed Chelsea’s top scorer in each of the past five seasons, with his best output coming in 2019-20 when he netted 31 times. He leaves Manchester City with 131 goals and 74 assists in all competitions in 339 games.

2021-22

17

15 (Lukaku)

2020-21

14

12 (Werner/Abraham)

2019-20

31

18 (Abraham)

2018-19

25

21 (Hazard)

2017-18

23

17 (Hazard)

Of Sterling’s 109 Premier League goals, 78 have come in the past five seasons in 161 appearances. Only Liverpool‘s Mohamed Salah, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Leicester City‘s Jamie Vardy have been more prolific in the same period. An average Sterling shot has a 24% chance of finding the back of the net, while his big-chance conversion rate is the same as Salah at 47%.

Sterling has also got 52 assists, created 250 chances and completed 320 take-ons (the fourth-highest in the Premier League) since 2017. These numbers show why Tuchel is so convinced he’s the right man to improve Chelsea’s attack.

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Sterling has 154 career goals in 468 appearances  Getty Images

How will Sterling fit at Chelsea?

Simply put, Sterling gives Tuchel attacking options and tactical versatility. His role at Manchester City was closer to that of a second striker than a traditional wide player, but he also loves to get white chalk on his boots and stretch defenses.

Sterling is a consistent threat in one-on-one situations and is also not averse to switching sides. And he relishes moving into positions between the lines to link up play.

At Chelsea, Sterling will be used as either a number ten or wide forward. He is comfortable as a false nine, too, though far less likely to be deployed in this capacity even with Romelu Lukaku departing for Inter on loan. His versatility makes him an asset since he fits neatly into Tuchel’s preferred 3-4-2-1 formation as well as into a 3-4-3 or 4-3-3.

From Sterling’s perspective, the fit is essentially being integral and thus not being utilized sporadically or in an ever-changing manner. Tuchel has already made it clear to Sterling that he will have freedom to get into the box and, more broadly, be an automatic name on the team sheet.

Part of Sterling’s frustration at City was feeling he was still performing at his peak yet absent from many of the big games. Sources say he was particularly disappointed to only get 28 minutes in Manchester City’s two-legged Champions League semi-final loss to Real Madrid.

To Sterling’s credit, any frustration was only taken out on the training field and he remained a model professional, respectful of both Pep Guardiola and other talent in his position. Sterling’s character, from both Tuchel and Boehly’s perspectives, is a big selling point. 

Lukaku’s very public departure to Inter caused acrimony and was pretty aggressively engineered by the Belgian striker since January. Tuchel’s relationship with Lukaku clearly broke down, and even though the Belgian striker is contracted to Chelsea until 2026, it would take something pretty unexpected for him to ever play a game for the club again.

Following that prolonged saga, Tuchel’s bond with Sterling is going to be key, and Chelsea’s German manager has already been impressed – even from the few talks had to date – by Sterling’s focus, intelligence and hunger to improve.

Boehly, meanwhile, although empowered by Tuchel’s targets, has an overarching strategy under the new American-led consortium to create a stronger people culture at Chelsea, both on the football side and beyond. Sterling’s arrival will help add chemistry and leadership to the dressing room. Fit is an underrated quality but one both Tuchel and Boehly value highly.

What other attacker might Chelsea sign?

Chelsea always wanted two attackers in this window. Sterling was the top priority, but the club are still actively looking at one more creative player. 

It’s unlikely Cristiano Ronaldo will join Sterling at Stamford Bridge. Tuchel doesn’t currently think a move for the 37-year-old makes football sense despite at least some interest from the American-led ownership group. Even if he could be persuaded, Manchester United maintain Ronaldo is not for sale, especially not to a Premier League rival. The true test of that stance will be if or when Ronaldo’s agent, Jorge Mendes, actually gets a concrete offer. Nothing has been tabled from Chelsea to date despite reports of a $20 million offer being prepared.

Boehly and Mendes did meet in June and discussed Ronaldo’s future. And Boehly, and Clearlake Capital’s co-founder, Behdad Eghbali, who sits on the Chelsea board, were certainly intrigued about pursuing the opportunity further. But Tuchel will have the final say, and sources tell CBS he’ll need significant persuasion to change his mind.

Tuchel is currently more interested in Robert Lewandowski even though Barcelona remains a more likely destination. Lewandowski has said he wants to move to the Camp Nou and Barcelona are expected to make an improved $50 million offer in the coming days. But Chelsea are monitoring the situation since Lewandowski is believed to be open to a Premier League move if Bayern and Barcelona can’t agree to a fee.

Serge Gnabry is being looked at, too. Although he only has one year left on his contract at Bayern, a renewal is still also very possible. Talks are not yet advanced but Chelsea aren’t put off by suggestions the former Arsenal winger won’t join due to loyalty to his former club. Gnabry falls more into the Leeds United winger Raphinha mold, with Chelsea successfully bidding for the Brazilian only to see him join Barcelona.

Tuchel is also an admirer of Milan’s Rafael Leão. Landing the Milan winger would be a real coup. The Serie A champions don’t want to sell and may hold out for over $100 million. Ziyech’s strong desire to join Milan could be used as leverage, and to lower the cash value, but it’s still a big ask to pull off the transfer with Milan fully intent on renewing his contract.

Re-signing Eden Hazard or move for Dominic Calvert-Lewin has not been considered. But Chelsea could yet join Manchester United in the race for Ajax winger Anthony.

With a variety of targets being looked at, and no second attacker imminent, the focus will be on Sterling settling in, starting with preseason in America. Many Manchester City fans will be sad to see him join Chelsea but perhaps one or two are guilty of under-appreciating him, too.

Sterling doesn’t quite depart in the same legendary bracket as players like Sergio Aguero or Kevin De Bruyne – but his combined goals and assists, specifically under Guardiola at Manchester City, are actually higher.

A successful Sterling, playing regularly, is a force to be reckoned with and exactly what Chelsea need to try and close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool. Come the end of the season, Manchester City could well regret letting him leave.

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