Raheem Sterling has taken it up a notch this season and seems almost like a newborn player under Manchester City’s new manager, Pep Guardiola. The expectations for the young England international were immense when he arrived from Liverpool on a £49m transfer during the summer window in 2015. These expectations were founded on a great three-way rapport he had developed between with Daniel Sturridge and Luiz Suarez, giving Liverpool the power to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title in 2013/14. The striker didn’t quite reach the same level the following season, but still managed to perform well enough to impress coaches and scouts one hour away in Manchester. Unfortunately, his performance level across his first season at City was even more questionable and he moved from being an integral part of the team to becoming a rotational player, starting several games from the bench.
With this in mind, The Stats Zone has decided to dive into the player statistics around Raheem Sterling to see whether he really was as bad as the reports suggest last season.
Whilst we will start by looking at goals and assists statistics, we want to go further than this too. We want to understand if there is any reason to suggest that the current Sterling is different to the player we saw last season. Our first take on the situation would be that it seems like Raheem Sterling is the type of player who performs significantly better when he is surrounded by a team who are also performing well.
There were a few considerations in this study. Firstly, we decided to look at data for the last four seasons (2012/13 to 2015/16) and all available data from the current season (as of 26th September) for Raheem Sterling, we acknowledge that the current season only consists of six games so far, but as we are looking at average per game measures we are certain that this will not inhibit our ability to draw conclusions. The data only includes games played in the domestic league to enable a clear season-to-season comparison. Furthermore, our main focus will be on the seasons between 2014/15 and 2016/17 as these are the most crucial periods to date in Sterling’s career.
To get into the analysis we will start by looking at the average goals and assists per game. This is visualised through a double bar graph where the blue bar represents goals per game average and the red bar within represents the average assists per game. Next we will look at the average number of shots and dribbles per game. This will also be visualised through a double bar graph with the blue bars representing average number of shots per game and the red bar the average number of dribbles per game. This gives us an opportunity to see whether Sterling seems to have been more or less involved in the game in any specific season.
The third graph in the analysis demonstrates Sterling’s average performance rating per season in a bar graph. This bar graph also contains a line graph, which displays the average number of minutes played per game to illustrate whether managers seemed eager to keep Sterling on the pitch for the full duration of the game. The fourth graph follows the same structure as the third but looks at pass succession rate (bars) and average passes per game (line). The fifth and last bar graph illustrates the number of man of the match awards that Sterling has received, with the top number within showing number of man of the match awards and the lower number illustrating the total number of Premier League games played that season.
Looking at the graph below we can see that Sterling has absolutely flown out of the block this season with a goals per game average of 0.67. This is significantly more than he achieved during his best season at Liverpool (0.27 in 2013/14) and during his first year at Manchester City (0.19 in 2015/16). His record this season in terms of assists per game is also outstanding – with 0.33 assists per game compared to last season at only 0.06. His last two seasons at Liverpool are significantly lower than this with 0.15 assists per game average in 2013/14 and 0.20 in 2014/15. This graph shows us that Sterling’s top two seasons were 2013/14 and 2016/17. One common denominator from these two seasons was that at the time, the teams he was playing with were also performing well – backing up our theory in the introduction.
Moving on to the next graph showing average shots and dribbles per game, we can see that Sterling’s current season stands out as a success story, with an average of 2.5 shots per game and 3.7 dribbles. From the data set, his next best season was his last at Liverpool (2014/15) when he delivered an average of 2.4 shots per game and 2.9 dribbles. Suarez left Liverpool for Barcelona in 2014 and Sterling successfully took this opportunity to fill the hole left in the team, becoming far more involved in the game and showing his prowess. Unfortunately, his next season at City doesn’t tell the same story. He only managed to reach 1.7 shots per game and 1.3 dribbles on average per game, which is remarkably low for the English International. This dribble score in 2015/16 is also particularly interesting as it sits way below any other season in the data set.
The third graph below looks at the average performance rating (taken from whoscored.com) and average minutes per game. We can see that Sterling’s average performance rating ranges between 7.0 and 7.4 during his time at Liverpool. After he moved to Manchester his average rating plummets to 6.8, which is the lowest score in the study. Having looked at the two previous graphs it comes as no surprise that the current season (2016/17) is the strongest by far, with his average performance rating at 7.9. The minutes per game stats show that during Sterling’s last season at Liverpool, he played on average 87.2 minutes per game. During his first season at Manchester City this average dropped by 25.0 minutes to 62.2. This season, his time on the pitch per game has shot up again to 85.0, much closer to his previous presence on the field during his last season at Liverpool. The final take out of this graph is that for the time period in the data set, Sterling’s worst season, in terms of ranking and average minutes per game, comes from his first one at Manchester City (2015/16). This also correlates with our previous reflection that he became a rotational player in this season, rather than one that was integral to the starting team.
The fourth graph illustrates pass succession rate and the average number of passes per game. Looking at the pass succession rate for Sterling, we can see that his highest score is surprisingly in his first season at City at 85.3% (2015/16) when his other performance indicators have generally been at their lowest. His last season at Liverpool (2014/15) and his current season (2016/17) are more in line with each other, sitting just above an 80% success rate. Interestingly enough, when we look at the average passes per game, Sterling had 32.4 during his last spell at Liverpool and so far this season 34.5, compared to 27.3 at City last season. In fact, 27.3 is his lowest score in the data set – making his average passes per game lowest the year he had the highest succession rate. On the flip side of this – during his last season at Liverpool and current season at Manchester City, on average he passes more per game but with a worse succession rate. This could potentially be explained by looking at Sterling’s position in the team. In 2014/15 and 2016/17 he plays more of a key role in his team, which would affect the number of risky passes he would be involved in; this would be a likely explanation of why his succession rate is down.
The last piece of analysis for this piece considers the number of times Sterling has received man of the match awards. In his last two seasons at Liverpool he received two and three man of the match awards respectively, out of 33 and 35 games. When we compare this to his first season at Manchester City, we can see that Sterling didn’t receive a single man of the match award over a total of 31 games. Notably, in his current season he has been man of the match twice. This is excellent considering he has only played a total of six games, so there will be plenty more opportunities to top his performance from the 2014/15 season.
Using data from the last four seasons (plus the current), we have considered the performance of Raheem Sterling in detail. We have seen that Sterling has absolutely flown out of the blocks this season, showing a goals and assist average well above last season. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that he plays best when in a team performing well: in his second last season (2013/14) at Liverpool and his current seasons at Manchester City his average shots per game and average dribbles are higher, showing greater involvement in the game. Another stat that stood out in our analysis was Sterling’s pass succession rate last season, which was extremely high. A closer look into his number of passes per game average shows that in fact, this was significantly low. This suggests he wasn’t as active in the 2015/16 season compared to previous years. Sterling’s average performance rating is also significantly lower in 2015/16 compared to all other seasons which is another indicator that his first year at Manchester City was a bit of a struggle. When looking at his number of man of the match awards, we can see that he didn’t receive a single award in 31 matches in 2015/16 (first season at Manchester City), which had never happened before. Sterling’s record this season across most performance indicators is much higher so we can see that he is playing significantly better.
To sum things up, it seems that last season at Manchester City really was a stop gap season for Raheem Sterling. One of the possible explanations is that he just didn’t respond well playing under manager Manuel Pellegrini. As we all know, Manchester City struggled at times last season and Sterling really seem to be the type of player that performs better when his team is also on a roll. A look into the raw data shows that Sterling tends to score when the score is even or his team is ahead. When his team was behind, he only managed to score once which has not been the case on any other season, and which backs up our theory into his performance patterns. In fact, if we briefly look further afield than his domestic performance, we can see a similar situation occurred during the Euros for this 21-year old. The England team was not doing well at all, and amongst this Raheem Sterling was really noticed for his disappointing performances. To end on a positive note, for Manchester City supporters at least, just by looking at the stats, it definitely seems like Raheem Sterling has regained his confidence and will be one to look out for this season.