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It’s been fascinating to observe Raheem Sterling’s development under the tactically sophisticated methods of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Having a youngster with such raw talent, who he’s been able to mould and further improve, has seen Guardiola really, especially in recent months, get the best of the enormously gifted 22-year-old.

Manchester City’s pulsating 1-1 draw with Liverpool last weekend offered a fascinating case study as to why Sterling’s such a weapon for the Catalan manager. One key feature of Sterling’s performance was the way Guardiola’s positional play system created brilliant conditions for Sterling to be put into isolation scenarios against his direct opponent, James Milner.

By doing so, this allowed the man who signed for City for a whopping £49 million transfer fee to use his searing pace, plus his unpredictability on the dribble in 1v1 battles, where he so often thrives in, to great effect.

There were two main methods used to enable the Sky Blues’ right-winger to be thrust into these optimal situations. To begin with, City would use the overload to isolate principle, which saw them build up play on the left side and get many numbers around the ball to force Liverpool’s defensive structure to shift to this side, before then launching a diagonal or lateral pass to the isolated Sterling on the right.

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With Milner subsequently the only player with access to challenge the explosive Sterling, this gave him a terrific opportunity to get beyond his marker with his dynamic attacking skillset and never be double marked by Jurgen Klopp’s men.

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Secondly, the way David Silva would drift over to the right half space and combine with City’s right back, Fernandinho and Sterling, in combination with Sergio Aguero’s stretching runs, worked wonders to isolate him down the flank. Through well synchronised movements and David Silva’s sublime, incisive passing ability, this allowed Sterling to time his runs when he recognised Silva was in a promising position to release him in behind Milner and with acres of space to surge into.

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The fact Sterling completed six successful dribbles suitably illustrated his aptitude in 1v1 duels and just how effective Guardiola’s astute tactics were implemented by his team.

“I have more freedom to express myself [under Guardiola],” Sterling said recently. “I have the authority to be myself and create chances.”

Although City ultimately had to settle for a draw vs The Reds, this match served as yet another glowing example as to how well Sterling’s adapting and relishing working under the nurturing guidance of Guardiola.

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Edward Stratmann

Freelance football writer and blogger he writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on several football websites, including AS Roma’s and Everton’s Official Websites, find his work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he co-founded in 2013.

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