Everton, AFC Bournemouth, Feyenoord, Huddersfield Town and Southampton – five teams with something in common.
The quintet above have all been denied points due to the late antics of Raheem Sterling, who has scored either an equaliser or a winner against those clubs in the dying stages of a fixture this term.
That doesn’t tell the full story of Sterling’s season in front of goal, however. As a winger, or in the number 10 role, or wherever deployed, the versatile forward has regularly notched double figures since his breakthrough in the professional game.
This season, though, Manchester City’s number seven has gone up another gear. Going into Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final, Sterling has already scored 20 goals in all competitions. Not all have been as dramatic as the five previously mentioned, but they’ve all counted towards what could well be a historic season for the treble-chasing club.
So, what’s clicked in front of goal for Sterling? He insists there’s been no major changes to his game, no extra target practice, no specific coaching; it’s simply a case of being in the right place at the right time.
“I’ve just been getting in the penalty area more,” said Sterling. “Every time I see an attack, I try not to be out on the wing, just get in the box and get as close to goal as possible. I tended to hang a bit far out when the ball was on the other side before, but now I’m trying to get on the end of things and that’s where most the goals have come from.”
Moving to the UK from Jamaica, his country of birth, at an early age, it didn’t take long for Sterling to find his calling. Living within reach of Wembley Stadium, football simply could not be avoided.
Joining the Academy ranks at Queens Park Rangers, it wasn’t long before Sterling caught the eye of Liverpool. A professional debut arrived for the Reds at the age of 17, he followed in the footsteps of Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and more when being presented with the Golden Boy Award in 2014, and soon came the big-money move to Manchester City.
With that transfer came plenty of pressure, but his maiden season at the Etihad saw him lift silverware in this very competition. The negativity surrounding the switch has since been shaken off, any doubters were silenced, and now the 23-year-old is looking forward to another trip to the national stadium, back in the area where it all began.
“I was 10 when I got invited to come down to a training session and it all clicked from there; I fell in love with the game,” recalled the England international, when quizzed about his early years in football.
“Wembley is amazing, especially with it being where I grew up and seeing the stadium being built... it’s always a great feeling to play there. Playing with QPR, going to school around the corner from the stadium, you always have it in the back of your head that one day you might play there.
“It’s a massive stadium and it’s always a great occasion when you go there. It’s going to be a great atmosphere and we can’t wait. We’ve played well in this competition, taken it seriously and that’s why we’re in the final – it’s a massive chance to get our first silverware of the season.
“There was no pressure [when moving to City], just negativity. It was something that I knew I had to take in my stride. I knew it wouldn’t be straightforward and that was the whole reason that I came here – if I knew it was going to easy then I’d have tried to challenge myself. It’s never going to be smooth, there’s going to be rough parts along the way, but it’s how you come out of it.
“That comes with age. I learned new things, learn how to do things differently and that’s part of growing up, becoming more mature and becoming a professional. You’re under the spotlight, you’re under scrutiny and people want to be in your shoes, so you can’t take anything for granted.”
Sterling’s Manchester City face Arsenal in the Carabao Cup Final on Sunday 25th February 2018, in a 4:30pm kick-off. For our match preview, click here.