Sterling's ability to 'never give up' behind resurgence at Manchester City, says Guardiola

Manager compares Englishman to 'incredible champions' Hamilton and Verstappen

Rewind a few weeks and the previously prolific Raheem Sterling had only scored two goals in his last 30 appearances for Manchester City. Now he has five in eight games but, even as Pep Guardiola deflected the praise for the winger’s return to form, he offered an example of the part chance has played in his revival.

Guardiola had made a point of praising Sterling for his performance when an injury-hit side won 2-1 at Aston Villa. The Englishman did not score then but he set the tone with a superb start and his manager harked back.

“I am going to reverse,” Guardiola said. “The day before we played Aston Villa, we have 12 [fit] players and he was not selected. The day of the game [Ilkay] Gundogan had a pain in his back and could not travel and Raheem played. Just take a look at the first 15-20 minutes he played. It was the best 15-20 minutes maybe from the last months.”

While Guardiola oversaw Sterling’s development from a talent into a world-class forward, he insisted a recent renaissance is not attributable to him. “I would like to say yes for my ego and for a better contract for the next seasons,” he said with a smile. “I am sorry: that is the most ridiculous thing. All this credit is for the player.”

Instead, Guardiola reached outside football for a comparison. He watched Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton contest the controversial Formula One World Championship on Sunday and said: “In the end a law or a VAR or a bad decision or many things can happen and you don’t win.

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"What you have to do is like Raheem has done in the last games or these incredible two athletes from Formula One have done and never give up. Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were incredible champions, but sometimes the success doesn’t depend on you. Sometimes something happens the athletes cannot control and you don’t win.”

Kevin de Bruyne has had a season that has felt beyond his control, from an ankle injury to contracting coronavirus. The midfielder is fit again but has only been a substitute in City’s last two league games.

In his absence, Bernardo Silva has been City’s outstanding individual this season. It has led to suggestions that the Portuguese and the Belgian cannot play together.

Kevin De Bruyne's season has so far been limited by injury and illness. PA

“Kevin de Bruyne is not going to play any more minutes for the rest of the season,” Guardiola replied sarcastically. “Kevin de Bruyne has not quality. Do you want to hear that? Kevin struggled in the beginning of the season when he played and when we got to start to be who he is in the [Manchester] United game, he got Covid.

"But, come on, Kevin is a more than important player for us and we miss him like, wow, you cannot imagine. We need him. Bernardo needs him and everyone. We cannot play in midfield with just Bernardo and Gundogan and Rodri.”

Gundogan has been declared fit to face Leeds on Tuesday. Instead, Marcelo Bielsa has the injury problems, with Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford topping the list of absentees. “If there is one person who never complains about what happens is Marcelo,” said Guardiola. “He loves to work when the situations are tough.”

City had won 27 of 28 previous matches when they hosted Leeds in April but lost 2-1. Leeds took four points off them and Guardiola, an admirer of Bielsa, reflected on the difficulties of facing a team with idiosyncratic tactics. “They play in this special and unique way all season and we play against it just twice a year,” he said. “We are not used to the way they play. It’s a challenge.”

Updated: December 14th 2021, 5:07 AM