Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish have a friendly rivalry going that could boost Manchester City’s pursuit of three trophies this season. The intense competition for places between the two Blues was accentuated during England’s 3-0 friendly win over Ivory Coast at Wembley in midweek, when Sterling capped a man-of-the-match performance by assisting Ollie Watkins for the opening goal and then bagging the second by converting Grealish’s superb half-volleyed set-up.
They have been fighting over the left-sided berth in the City team all season, with Phil Foden also thrown into that mix, but now usually shifted into a central role to accommodate either Sterling or Grealish in the team. That scrap has now translated into a similar fight to be first-choice in Gareth Southgate’s national team.
Bizarrely, Sterling seems to have the upper hand when wearing the Three Lions and Grealish has an edge in City blue. The stats point overwhelmingly towards Sterling, who has 14 goals and four assists this season, compared to Grealish’s four goals and three assists.
ALSO READ:City’s strongest XI about to be revealed
Guardiola pays scant regard to stats, and has already told Grealish he needs to stop obsessing over the figures – he is more interested in his overall contribution to the team, with which he is more than happy. But Grealish, like many players, wants hard numbers to back up the evidence of the eyes, and that probably fueled what seems to have been a half-joking, half-pointed remark to the TV cameras when asked about teeing up Sterling for his goal , a moment after Sterling had ignored his clubmate – in a far better position – in order to take a shot in the first place.
“I said to Raz, ‘Any chance of you passing to me before?’ I said, ‘Any danger?’ Grealish told reporters having a bit of fun, while also adding a serious note in there. Sterling SHOULD have passed to Grealish rather than shoot, and Grealish would have been within his rights from him to be a little selfish himself when the shot rebounded off the goalkeeper to his feet from him—instead he instantly squared it for Sterling to slide home.
Sterling got that goal to add to his assist, while Grealish was left with just the assist to his name. But Guardiola, watching that, would have been more impressed by Grealish’s unselfish decision-making than that of Sterling.
Any seriousness in Grealish’s remark is likely to have been laughed off by now – Guardiola said recently that the harmony in his squad is “exceptional”, adding: “What they have between them is the most important thing, their respect for each other. In football the most difficult thing is that every day they are ‘enemies’, they fight for one position in the team.
“They are enemies in a nice sense. But after they have to be brothers at the weekend, and that mix is not easy to handle because everyone wants to play. So if they have respect for each other, then the rest is easy.”
With eight days coming up that could shape the destiny of this season for City, with the Liverpool showdown sandwiched neatly between two Champions League quarter-final legs against Atletico Madrid, the fight for places is more intense than ever. Sterling is likely to get the first shot at staking his claim on him by playing at Burnley on Saturday, in the hope that the confidence he gained from his England performance will spill over into club football.
But if Sterling gets the nod at Turf Moor, it is likely to indicate that Grealish is lined up for the home game with Atletico on Tuesday – his more intricate and delicate skills perhaps more suited to unlocking a fabled deep-lying Atletico defense than Sterling’s more Pacy, direct approach.
Guardiola will not be swayed by the stats, regardless of how much a player might fret about them, and right now the left-sided spot is likely to be occupied by either Grealish, or by Foden – especially if Trent Alexander-Arnold is not fit , and the youngster can be let loose on whichever unfortunate is drafted in to replace him, as James Milner was at Anfield.
Sterling can give the manager food for thought with a big performance against Burnley, but at the moment he is a second favorite for the big one at the Etihad a week on Sunday.
Sign up to our City newsletter so you never miss an update from the Etihad Stadium this season.
Catch up on all the latest Blues headlines in our Man City section