Raheem Sterling may not have been too aware of it but, as Phil Foden’s cross from the right-hand side of the Norwich City box made its way to the head of Ruben Dias on Saturday, he was about to make a leap.
Dias directed his header in the direction of the England winger, who ghosted behind the Norwich defenders and dared into an unguarded net.
Sterling’s second of the game took his tally of Premier League goals to 105 — one ahead of Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. He scored another to earn his hat-trick and go further clear of the Ivorian.
It was a statistic that seemed to surprise many, given Drogba’s lofty status as a Premier League great who specialized in scoring “heavy” goals.
That ties into a general and lingering level of underappreciation of Sterling, whose talents have sometimes been taken for granted over the course of nearly a decade at the highest level.
Not the flashiest of players, even at the onset of his professional career at Liverpool, when speed was his primary weapon of choice to beat opponents, Sterling has morphed into a supremely efficient footballer since Pep Guardiola arrived at City.
Raheem’s efficiency is reflected in the increase of his goal tally since the Catalan arrived in Manchester: seven, 18, 17 and 20 league goals over the following four seasons. Last term he hit a slump in form and was subsequently dropped by Guardiola for the club’s run-in to the Champions League final.
Even so, Sterling ended the campaign on 10 league goals, which is nothing to be sniffed at. This time around he has equaled his 2021/22 tally in 10 fewer appearances.
If we include all competitions, Sterling has scored 126 goals for the club, a phenomenal record by anyone’s standards.
One person under no illusions when it comes to Sterling’s importance is Guardiola, with his winger now into the final 18 months of his contract.
“Nobody doubts how important it is,” Guardiola said. “What I want is [day after day] to play good. Not just him, but all the players. If we count the amount of games he has played since we are together, it is a lot. He is a key player.
“About the future, I don’t know what is going to happen. The club decides. I give my opinion but of course the club takes the decision all the time.
“I have known Raheem for six seasons; this season he was outstanding in goals, assists and his contribution to the team and for himself. During that period there are highs and lows, it is part of life.”
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With the season nearing the final straight and strikerless City still in three competitions, Guardiola will be relying on Sterling more than ever.
And by the time the season concludes, he could overtake Manchester United favorites Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes on the Premier League all-time scorers’ list and cement himself in the top 25.
Now, wouldn’t that be nice?