Pep Guardiola says Raheem Sterling is “an incredibly important player” to Manchester City – as he continues a dramatic turnaround in fortunes having been hinting at an Etihad exit just four months ago.
“For his confidence it will be massive,” said City boss Guardiola. “The first goal is brilliant – when Raheem executes without thinking, he is excellent.
“I am so happy for him because strikers need to score for confidence for the next games. He had a fantastic game, especially after the goal he was confident and more aggressive, direct and scored a fantastic goal.
“He has been an incredibly important player in all these seasons, with all the goals and assists, and when he has confidence he’s a really, really important player.”
So will Sterling, who was frustrated by a lack of playing time earlier in the campaign, now sign a new contract?
‘Lure of Barcelona and Real Madrid not the same these days’
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England international Sterling’s current deal expires in 2023 and the forward said in October he had dreamed “from a young age” of playing abroad.
Sterling had only scored once by that point in the season, making just two starts, and expressed his concern that he was not playing regularly enough.
But since City began their 15-game unbeaten run in November he has been a regular starter and scored nine times in the league, and 11 goals in all competitions.
Against Norwich, a superb right-footed curling effort, close-range header and tap-in from a saved penalty made Sterling the third City player to score a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League, after Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero, who did it twice.
“You’re not going to score everything that goes your way but keep shooting and the goals will come,” Sterling said afterwards.
Former Premier League midfielder Jamie Redknapp says Sterling is “fundamental” to Guardiola’s side.
“Look at where he can go. He will have options anywhere but the lure of Barcelona and Real Madrid is not the same these days,” Redknapp said on Sky Sports.
“He feels the perfect fit at Manchester City – only Lionel Messi and Aguero have scored more goals under Pep as manager. It feels right with him here.
“He scores goals; his movement; his desire. He knows where the goal is. He is so difficult to defend against. He must be a nightmare to defend against.”
Ex-Liverpool and England midfielder Danny Murphy added on Match of the Day: “I have huge admiration for his character and resilience after a disappointing start to the season.
“People questioned would he be in the team with the signing of Jack Grealish. He has bounced back and is now the best bet for City as a goal threat.
“He basically got in the team and said to Pep ‘you are not leaving me out’. I cant eulogise about him enough. His footballing ability speaks for itself, but his character and desire… top player.”