Pep Guardiola rates Raheem Sterling as one of the world's best as he faces former club Liverpool

Manchester City star has translated potential into breathtaking performance

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It is five years since one of the more controversial transfers of recent times, one that propelled a club to new heights. Arguably, it spurred a second to success as well.

Perhaps, given the time that has passed and the shared taste of glory, the animosity should be over. Certainly there will be no Liverpool fans present on Sunday to accuse Raheem Sterling of greed. That may benefit Manchester City: Sterling’s sole league goal against his old employers came at an empty Etihad Stadium in July.

If some in the Liverpool support have savoured Sterling’s unhappy returns to Anfield, they progressed after his sale. Whether it is despite it or because of it is a moot point.

The proceeds of his £44 million ($58m) sale were spent on Christian Benteke, who floundered on Merseyside.

They also helped fund the purchase of Roberto Firmino, the most important player in Jurgen Klopp’s tactics, one whose Liverpool career was kickstarted when he opened his account in a 4-1 win over City, but one who faces a battle for his place with Diogo Jota today.

It is easy to envisage Sterling suiting Klopp’s system. He has kicked on instead under Pep Guardiola. The winger scored 10 and 11 goals in his last two seasons at Liverpool, 11 and 10 in his first two at City.

Since then, there have been 84 in just 158 games, helping to yield six major trophies. Potential has been translated into performance, and yet his manager believes the best is yet to come.

“I think he is a better player than when he arrived and hopefully in three, four, five years he will be a much, much better player than he is now,” said Guardiola.

“He is an exceptional player. Especially because of his mentality and desire to win he improves a lot and all the credit is for him.”

Part of Sterling’s strength lies in his durability. He has only sat out eight minutes each in the Premier and Champions Leagues this season, all when games were won. “Of course, there will be a moment when he will take a rest but in this moment he is a very important player for us and why we count on him,” Guardiola said.

His time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich has given Guardiola ample experience of coaching World Cup winners; the brightest star in the galaxy of talent he has managed is Lionel Messi.

He believes Sterling is among his finest players, while telling him not to concentrate on whether he is one of the best footballers in the game today.

“My advice I would say to him is don't think about this,” he said. “It's no sense. Just enjoy life, focus and the destiny will dictate who he is as a player. I know he's one of the most fantastic players I have in my career as a manager.”

Guardiola drew on his past, too, to put Liverpool into context. Theirs has become an epic modern-day rivalry, notably in 2018-19 when they amassed 198 points between them, with City edging the Merseysiders for the title by a solitary point, aided by a goal-line clearance from John Stones when Liverpool were 11mm from scoring at the Etihad.

“I faced Borussia Dortmund with Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen, incredible teams,” Guardiola recalled.

“When I was at Barcelona, the rivalry with Real Madrid was so, so tough when Jose Mourinho was there.

"But Liverpool in the last years and Luis Enrique’s Barcelona, when I played the semi-finals of the Champions League with Bayern Munich, were the toughest opponents I ever faced.”

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