Talking Tactics

How Chelsea are getting the best out of revitalised Sterling

13 Oct 2023
Raheem Sterling-TT

Adrian Clarke on why the Blues winger is enjoying his football again under Mauricio Pochettino

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical talking points from the season so far.

Player analysis: Raheem Sterling (Chelsea)

Boosted by Mauricio Pochettino’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, a reenergised Sterling has been Chelsea’s standout player this season.

Performing with fearless positivity across the opening eight Premier League matches, the 28-year-old is enjoying his football again, after a frustrating debut campaign at the club.

Receiving the ball slightly higher up the pitch, for a side that is averaging 63.5 per cent of possession, Sterling has been sharp and consistently hungry to make an impact.

Probing runs

Putting defenders onto the back foot with his willingness to run at them, no other Premier League player has enjoyed more touches inside the opposition box than Sterling so far.

A signal of his importance to Pochettino and the way the Blues attack can be seen in the table below, which highlights how much probing he brings to the side.

Most touches in opp. box in PL and Chelsea 23/24
Player Touches in opp. box (Premier League) Player Touches in opp. box (Chelsea)
Raheem Sterling 82 Raheem Sterling 82
Dejan Kulusevski 76 Nicolas Jackson 42
Marcus Rashford 63 Mykhailo Mudryk 22
Mohamed Salah 62 Ben Chilwell 22

Receiving passes on the half-turn with greater frequency, Sterling is not thinking twice before running at defenders.

He has attempted more than double the number of dribbles (39) than any other Chelsea player in 2023/24 and practically doubled his average touches inside the area from 6.05 per 90 minutes last term, to 11.57.

Last time out in a 4-1 success at Burnley, Sterling was borderline unplayable, with his mazy dribbles playing a part in every goal Chelsea scored at Turf Moor.

Sterling's performance v Burnley
Sky-high confidence

One noticeable change from last season is the way Sterling wants to fire off shots at the end of his dribbles into the box.

He made 11 shot-ending ball carries in his first campaign at Chelsea, ranking him 54th in the division, but as it stands, he is third in the current standings with eight.

Most shot-ending ball carries 23/24
Player Shot-ending ball carries
Marcus Rashford 11
Eberechi Eze 10
Raheem Sterling 8

Speaking after scoring a brace against Luton Town back in August, Sterling told Sky Sports that Pochettino had given him encouragement to play without fear.

“He said: ‘Raheem, it doesn’t matter where you play, if you are dynamic and aggressive, no one can stop you," Sterling said. "'It doesn’t matter left, right, centre, just be aggressive with the ball.'”

Fernandez rapport

Influential midfield playmaker Enzo Fernandez has struck up a tremendous rapport with Sterling.

Whether Sterling is wide on the right or left, the 22-year-old World Cup winner is always looking to bring him into play.

Pinging crisp early passes to his feet, or sometimes sliding him in behind full-backs, Fernandez has given the ball to Sterling more than any other Chelsea player so far.

Most passes to Sterling 23/24
Player Passes to Sterling
Enzo Fernandez 68
Malo Gusto 43
Conor Gallagher 35
Axel Disasi 21
Nicolas Jackson 17

Below you can see the types of passes Fernandez supplied to Sterling during his excellent displays at Burnley (left) and West Ham United (right).

Fernandez to Sterling versus Burnley and West Ham
Sterling of old

Pochettino is an excellent man-manager, and his encouragement for Sterling to go out and express himself without worrying about losing the ball, has taken the winger’s game up a level.

Chelsea supporters are starting to see the Sterling of old, who was so outstanding for Manchester City and Liverpool.

Cole Palmer’s arrival is likely to mean we see more of Sterling on the left side in the coming weeks, and based on what we saw at Burnley, that will suit the latter just fine.

Also in this series

Part 1: Has Arteta made the right call replacing Ramsdale with Raya?
Part 2: Is Rodri's absence behind Haaland's drop in form?
Part 4: Maddison magic and rapid defenders: Why Spurs are the real deal

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