There’s a bitter irony here, in that Raheem Sterling would’ve never earned a big-money move to Manchester City had he not continuously lit up Anfield during his three full seasons in the Liverpool first team – most particularly the 2013/14 campaign when he played a key role in the club’s unexpected title bid under Brendan Rodgers.
But since departing Merseyside under a cloud of controversy in summer 2015, Anfield has been anything but a happy hunting ground for the young, exciting forward who once had the Mersey faithful sitting on the very edge of their seats. Indeed, in his four return trips as a Manchester City player, the England international has failed to score or assist, while incurring two bookings.
Those yellow cards are a symbol of Sterling’s frustration whenever he returns to the club that gave him his first chance at senior level, but even without the bookings it’s been clear to see the effect jeers, hisses, boos and whistles from fans who once lovingly sung his name have had on a forward who – as we often forget – is still just 23 years of age and some way off full maturity.
Having failed to have any kind of impact on the game, Pep Guardiola hauled off an increasingly belittled and frantic Sterling in the Premier League trip to Anfield last season, and his departure was quickly followed by City’s consolation comeback in that thrilling 4-3. When City would return to Anfield a few months later, this time in the Champions League, Sterling was left on the bench. Clearly, Guardiola felt the situation had become too much for his favoured forward to handle.
Not that Sterling would be alone in that regard. Wayne Rooney’s scoring record against his boyhood club Everton and their local rivals was infamously poor compared to his usual standards with just 12 goals in 46 meetings, and as Gary Neville explained around this time last year, a big part of the problem was his family’s emotional connection to returning to Merseyside.
“It was an emotional thing for him. Going back to Merseyside – and especially Everton – was a big thing for him and his family. It built up a lot in his mind.”
For Sterling, it’s never been a family affair in quite the same way – amid all the superficial hoo-hah about disloyalty to Liverpool as his intentions to join Manchester City became apparent, it’s often forgotten that only five years earlier he was living in west London playing for QPR – but perhaps because of how nasty the transfer saga became, perhaps because of how intense the hostility Liverpool fans express towards him still is, the 44-cap attacker suffers similar problems to the former Manchester United captain. Emotionally, he’s seemed completely overwhelmed at Anfield, lost in the hysteria of the terraces rather than focusing on the realities of the game itself.
Indeed, in addition to failing to score, assist or even win at Anfield – although Manchester City have only ever managed one Premier League victory there – Sterling’s four outings have accumulated just three shots at goal, three key passes, and perhaps most tellingly eight dispossessions and eight unsuccessful touches.
But perhaps a fortuitous goal or assist is all Sterling needs to break the psychological suffocation he suffers upon returning to the club where he made his name. So, Manchester City fans, would you start Sterling this weekend when Guardiola’s side travel to Anfield once again? Let us know by voting below…