Gareth Southgate lauds 'top player' Raheem Sterling for prolific England form

Three Lions face Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday in their next 2022 World Cup qualifying match

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Gareth Southgate has praised Raheem Sterling for turning into the prolific goalscorer who has more than justified his backing for him.

Sterling only scored twice in his first 45 caps for his country but has 16 goals in his last 24 internationals, including three in Euro 2020, when he was England’s outstanding forward, and the opener in last week’s 4-0 win over Hungary.

England now face Poland, with Southgate guarding against complacency and urging his side to take a giant stride towards the 2022 World Cup, but looking towards Sterling to produce another defining display.

“He is a top player and he has got the hunger, not only to play well and perform well for the team but to score goals," Southgate said. "That progression in the last couple of years has added so much.

"I can’t speak highly enough of how he has been with us, in the last three years in particular. We have always had faith in him but that has been easy in the last few years because of the numbers he has hit.”

Jordan Pickford is another Southgate has backed, despite some mixed form for Everton in recent years, and the goalkeeper only conceded twice in Euro 2020, neither from open play. The England manager believes Pickford is benefiting from a calmer attitude.

“We have always had belief in his abilities as a goalkeeper,” he said. “That has been questioned externally but never internally and his performances have always warranted that faith.

"There is the goalkeeping ability of keeping the ball out of the net and then there is his ability with his feet which is so important in the modern game. He has got a fantastic range of passing and the way we want to play, that is very, very important.

Raheem Sterling scored the opening goal for England against Hungary in the 2022 World Cup qualifying match on Thursday. AFP

"In the last six months, his calmness in the matches has been a real standout and a progression. It has been an area he has paid attention to and he has certainly seen the rewards of that in his performances.”

England have won all five qualifiers and victory on Wednesday night would give them at least a six-point lead at the summit of Group I.

“We are in a good moment but those moments can be dangerous,” Southgate said. “Because if we get any sense of complacency then we are going to a game where we will be really challenged.

"This is a big opportunity for us, we can take a positive step towards the World Cup if we win in Warsaw so it is a high level of motivation but also guarding against any feeling that we are better than we are. We are having a good run of results because we are working hard for each other.”

Jordan Pickford has been in fine form in England. Reuters

England required an 85th-minute winner by Harry Maguire to beat Poland at Wembley in March, when they were without their record scorer Robert Lewandowski, who is fit for the rematch and has scored 10 goals in six matches this season.

“Any team is going to miss a player of that calibre and we will prepare some specifics for Lewandowski,” Southgate said. “But also we know they have other strong players. They gave us a really tough game at Wembley and pushed us right to the end.”

Southgate also has to cope with the consequences of another prolific scorer, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Manchester United potentially coming at a cost to Mason Greenwood or Marcus Rashford, if either or both is benched.

“That is for Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] to decide,” Southgate said. “At every club, we have to pick up from those selections and how that affects fitness and form and everything else so it is not an unusual situation for us.”

Updated: September 07, 2021, 1:46 PM