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Sterling’s Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024

In the whirlwind 15 months since American billionaire Todd Boehly and a group of investors took the reins at Chelsea, a lot has unfolded. Amidst the chaos, it’s easy to overlook that Raheem Sterling was the inaugural star signing of this new era.

Sterling Image via Wikipedia Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Sterling, Image via Wikipedia

Coming from Manchester City, Sterling’s arrival was met with nods of approval and firm handshakes. He brought with him a wealth of experience and a stellar Premier League track record, making it a sensible move.

However, no one could have foreseen the tumultuous 2022-23 season that Chelsea would endure. A staggering £600 million spent, three different permanent managers, and a shocking 30-point decline compared to the previous year. Their final tally of 44 points was the lowest since the 1987-88 season, which had 42 points.

Sterling was just one of the 21 players Chelsea brought in during that eventful season. Despite the fact that seven of these players were promptly loaned out, the chaotic environment, coupled with a revolving door of managers, made it challenging for anyone to shine.

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Raheem Sterling was no exception. He managed to find the net only nine times in 38 appearances across all competitions, breaking a nine-year streak of hitting double-digit goals. A persistent hamstring injury suffered in the opening game of 2023 against Manchester City didn’t help matters. Neither did the constant positional changes imposed on him by his three different managers.

Sterlings Positional Map for Chelsea divided by Minutes Image via Opta Analyst Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Sterling’s Positional Map for Chelsea divided by Minutes, Image via Opta Analyst

Also Read: Chelsea transfer news 2023: Azpilicueta, Mount, Havertz, Kante and Kovacic leave; Jackson signs

Raheem Sterling’s Resurgence: Pochettino’s Impact and Tactical Shifts

What a transformation a summer break can bring, especially when coupled with a dedicated commitment to fitness and a fresh manager at the helm.

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Raheem Sterling’s performance in Chelsea’s opening three games has been nothing short of spectacular. He’s displayed remarkable sharpness, speed, and threat, recapturing his lightning-fast acceleration. In fact, he hit a top speed of 34.2 kmph against Liverpool, marking the fastest sprint by any Chelsea player this season—an unmistakable sign that he’s returned to peak physical condition.

Sterling Image via Twitter Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Sterling, Image via Twitter

Sterling attributes his resurgence to Mauricio Pochettino. In an interview with Sky Sports following Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Luton, he shared his feelings:

“I had some frustrations last season. I found myself often dropping deep with my back to the goal, not getting the chance to move towards the box. Throughout last season, I felt I was too deep, just passing the ball to the full-backs.”

He continued, “I had a simple conversation with Pochettino. He told me, ‘Raheem, it doesn’t matter where you play. If you’re dynamic and aggressive, no one can stop you. Whether it’s left, right, or center, just be aggressive with the ball. I know exactly what he expects from me, and it’s as simple as that. I need to receive the ball on the back foot and take on players, which is when I’m most effective.”

While Sterling’s claim that he always passed to his full-backs isn’t entirely accurate—statistics show he passed the ball more to midfielders Enzo Fernández (44), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (40), and striker Kai Havertz (35)—his observation about receiving the ball further from the goal is spot on.

Last season, only 58.4% of his passes were received in the final third. This season, that figure has risen significantly to 67.2%, a rate similar to dedicated strikers like Eddie Nketiah (68.2%) and Erling Haaland (68.8%).

A visual comparison of his touch locations this season versus the previous one paints a clear picture. Sterling not only has more touches on the ball but also receives it in more advanced positions, often staying high and wide on the right to isolate his marker. This reaffirms the impact of Pochettino’s stabilizing influence, as Sterling has started on the right wing in all three games under his management.

Raheem Sterlings Open Play Touch Comparison in 2023 24 vs 2022 23 Image via Opta Analyst Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Raheem Sterling’s Open Play Touch Comparison in 2023-24 vs 2022-23, Image via Opta Analyst

Staying in those advanced positions has proven to be a game-changer for Sterling, and the statistics back it up in stunning fashion. He’s getting into the opposition’s box at an unprecedented rate, recording 11.8 touches per game, a career-high for the seasoned professional.

Although Chelsea has only played three games this season and has dominated possession in each of them, boasting an impressive average possession rate of 69.1%, one thing stands out unquestionably—Sterling’s dynamism when he’s in possession.

To echo Sterling’s own words, he exudes aggression and a relentless desire to take on defenders with the ball at his feet. Over the course of these three games, the Chelsea winger has attempted more dribbles than any other player in the league, tallying an impressive 21 dribbles. In fact, only Matheus Nunes of Wolves and Lewis Dobbin of Everton can surpass his per-90 rate of 7.3 dribbles. Astonishingly, Sterling is currently taking on opposition players more frequently than at any other point in his career.

And if you need further proof of his prowess, just take a look at his sublime goal against Luton. Watching Sterling in full flight is nothing short of a breathtaking spectacle.

Sterlings Career Seasonal Ranks Image via Opta Analyst Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Sterling’s Career Seasonal Ranks, Image via Opta Analyst

Sterling’s Dual Role: Winger and Progressive Outlet for Chelsea

One of the key advantages of Sterling’s high and wide positioning extends beyond his ability to take on opposing full-backs. It’s the role he plays as a dynamic and progressive outlet for Chelsea. In this season alone, he’s received an impressive 26 progressive passes, a statistic that places him in esteemed company. Only his teammate, Nicolas Jackson, and Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli have received more.

This crucial role has been facilitated by players like Malo Gusto, operating from the right-wing back position, and Fernández, who’s shown a penchant for spraying the ball out wide. However, it’s worth noting that Fernández, in particular, has formed a strong connection with Sterling. He’s passed the ball to Raheem more times than anyone else, with the Argentine often collecting from his defenders, pivoting, and seeking out Sterling’s position on the right flank. This partnership has undoubtedly added a new dimension to Chelsea’s attacking play.

Enzo Fernandezs Pass to Sterling in 2023 24 Season so far Image via Opta Analyst Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Enzo Fernandez’s Pass to Sterling in 2023-24 Season so far, Image via Opta Analyst

Starting from this position, Sterling becomes a catalyst for propelling Chelsea up the field, showcasing his elite ball-carrying skills. It’s a testament to his ability that only five players have covered more ground with the ball this season, tallying an impressive 456 meters. What makes this feat even more remarkable is that four of these players are typically central defenders who often lead in this metric. The fifth player, a notable exception, is Kaoru Mitoma.

Digging deeper into these statistics, one of those central defenders, Lewis Dunk, stands out. He’s the sole player who has completed more carries, especially those stretching over 10 meters, directly up the field compared to Sterling.

Examining Sterling’s map of long progressive carries below, it vividly illustrates the dangerous zones on the pitch where he receives the ball and drives his team forward. His ability to pick up the ball in these areas and initiate attacking movements is a formidable asset for Chelsea.

Sterlings Long Progressive Carries in 2023 24 Season Image via Opta Analyst Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Sterling’s Long Progressive Carries in 2023-24 Season, Image via Opta Analyst

The world of football fandom often operates in extremes, characterized by rapid-fire reactions where every performance is either labeled “amazing” or “terrible.” In this climate, it’s intriguing to observe that many had prematurely dismissed Raheem Sterling as a player, seemingly forgetting just how exceptional he truly is.

However, Sterling’s recent goal-scoring exploits against Luton serve as a potent reminder of his enduring quality. He found the back of the net in the Premier League for a remarkable 12th consecutive season, a feat that underscores his consistency and prowess. In fact, since his inaugural strike back in October 2012, only five players have managed to score more league goals. This remarkable achievement reiterates Sterling’s enduring impact and the enduring quality that he brings to the pitch.

Premier League Goals Scored by Others Since Raheem Sterlings First Goal in October 2021 Image via Opta Analyst Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Premier League Goals Scored by Others Since Raheem Sterling’s First Goal in October 2021, Image via Opta Analyst

With an impressive tally of 117 goals and 59 assists to his name, Raheem Sterling boasts a total of 176 Premier League goal involvements. This remarkable figure places him in the 20th position on the all-time Premier League charts. What’s even more striking is the illustrious company he keeps. Sterling has scored more goals than legendary figures like Ian Wright and Didier Drogba and has notched more assists than the iconic Paul Scholes. Such company highlights the exceptional nature of his contributions.

At just 28 years old, Sterling has ample time to climb even higher in the rankings. Currently, Steven Gerrard holds the 10th spot with 120 goals and 92 assists. Given Sterling’s consistent track record of averaging 15 goals and assists per season throughout his career, it’s entirely conceivable that he could surpass Gerrard’s record with just three more seasons of typical production. This raises the likelihood that Raheem Sterling will be remembered as one of the all-time greats in the Premier League.

Sterling Image via Twitter 1 Sterling's Resurgence at Chelsea: Reviving Raheem Sterling in 2024
Sterling, Image via Twitter

Considering the relative youth and inexperience of Chelsea’s current squad, which has also been plagued by injuries, Sterling stands out as one of the senior figures. Thiago Silva is the only outfield player older than him. As Mauricio Pochettino ushers Chelsea into a new era, he will require bold leaders to step up to the plate. Early indicators strongly suggest that Sterling is embracing this role with determination and enthusiasm, positioning himself as a key figure in Chelsea’s evolving narrative.

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