Monday 9 April 2018 13:23, UK
Raheem Sterling has enjoyed the best goal-scoring season of his career - but a hat-trick of misses against Manchester United proved costly as Manchester City squandered the chance to clinch the Premier League title against their rivals.
"Sterling could have put them out of sight," said Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness, after watching United pull off a remarkable comeback to battle back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to win 3-2 and delay City's title celebrations.
Sterling played a key role in City's early advantage, stretching the United defence and playing a cute pass into Ilkay Gundogan to double the lead, following Vincent Kompany's opener. That has taken him to eight assists in the Premier League this season, the most he has recorded in a top-flight campaign.
But two glaring misses in the space of three minutes visibly annoyed Pep Guardiola on the touchline.
The first, on 33 minutes, saw Sterling blast over under pressure from Antonio Valencia after being played through by David Silva.
Moments later Silva sent him through again, and again Sterling fired off target.
Sterling could have put them out of sight.
"United are all over the place at the moment," Gary Neville said on Sky Sports commentary at the time. "The two centre-backs have gone to pieces. The back four are getting stretched, and I have no idea where Eric Bailly is there. Raheem Sterling has missed two chances to put the game to bed."
Given the dominance City were enjoying at that moment, it seemed those misses would be forgotten in the midst of the hosts racking up a memorable, title-sealing victory. But instead, they came back to haunt City. Guardiola was right to be annoyed.
An inspired Paul Pogba scored twice inside two minutes to turn the game and Chris Smalling volleyed home unmarked with just over 20 minutes remaining to complete the comeback.
Worse for Sterling, there was another missed chance to come. His third was tougher and arrived in the 90th minute. The ball came to him quickly in the box from a corner and he could only do his best to direct it goalward. But he found the post rather than the net and City's hopes of pulling level and setting up a grandstand finish were over.
Man Utd: 0.98
They were glaring errors from Sterling. Interestingly, Opta's initial Expected Goals data from the match rated his chances as easier to score than all of United's combined. Sterling's xG was recorded as 0.99, United's as 0.98.
Sterling has had a lot of joy in front of goal this season. Only Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero have more than his 16 Premier League goals. But still his reputation as 'not a natural goalscorer' persists in some quarters. His finishing ability is divisive among observers.
The stats suggest that is a partly unfair accusation to level at the 23-year-old. Of players to have had 20 clear-cut chances this season, he has the best conversion rate, according to Opta.
|Player||Big chance total||Big chance conversion|
But on whatever side of the Sterling argument you stand, three bad misses against United ultimately proved damaging on Saturday.
Sterling and City will have to wait for the next chance to clinch the title to come along.
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