Raheem Sterling: Is the Manchester City winger a Premier League legend?

As Sterling makes it to 100 top-flight goals, we pay homage to his incredible numbers over recent seasons.
Raheem Sterling scored his 100th Premier League goal in the win over Wolves. Credit: Getty.Raheem Sterling scored his 100th Premier League goal in the win over Wolves. Credit: Getty.
Raheem Sterling scored his 100th Premier League goal in the win over Wolves. Credit: Getty.

On Saturday, Raheem Sterling reached a landmark only 31 others have ever achieved, as the Manchester City winger scored his 100th Premier League goal in the 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The champions weren’t at their brilliant best as they dispatched Wolves at the Etihad, despite the visitors playing over 45 minutes with 10 men after Raul Jimenez’s ludicrous red card in first-half injury time.

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But it took a contentious refereeing decision to hand City the initiative in the game, with the ball adjudged to have hit Joao Moutinho’s arm in the penalty area on 66 minutes. After a VAR check, Jon Moss’s on-field decision was upheld and it was Sterling who strode forward and confidently stroked the ball past Jose Sa, to make it a century of top-flight goals.

It’s an achievement that, at 27, really shouldn’t be underestimated, especially given Sterling has played the vast majority of his career in the wide areas.

Sterling made it 99 goals against Watford last week. Credit: Getty.Sterling made it 99 goals against Watford last week. Credit: Getty.
Sterling made it 99 goals against Watford last week. Credit: Getty.

In scoring his 100th goal, the attacker adds his name to a high-calibre list of those who have made it to triple figures in the league without being considered a traditional centre-forward, including: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Mohamed Salah, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Sadio Mane.

The numbers behind Sterling’s achievement

It’s easy to overlook just how consistent Sterling has been in front of goal over recent seasons, but under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage, his development from speedy wideman to clinical inside forward has been pivotal in firing City to repeated silverware.

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Under the former Barcelona coach, Sterling has won three Premier League titles, the League Cup on three occasions and collected an FA Cup winners’ medal in 2019, all the while netting 69 league goals since the start of the 2017/18 campaign.

To put that into perspective, it outstrips the figures for other wide forwards Mane (61), Heung-min Son (58), Marcus Rashford (47) and Riyad Mahrez in that period (41), while Salah’s ludicrous numbers are the only ones higher from a player in a similar position, with the Liverpool forward bagging 109 in the last four and a bit seasons.

Salah is the only winger who has outscored Sterling. Credit: Getty.Salah is the only winger who has outscored Sterling. Credit: Getty.
Salah is the only winger who has outscored Sterling. Credit: Getty.

Yet for all Sterling’s sensational statistics, his form over the past year has undoubtedly dipped. This was reflected in Guardiola’s team selection earlier this season, with the former Liverpool man starting in just two of the first seven league games of the term, and three of the opening 11.

It also doesn’t seem all that long ago Sterling admitted he’d ‘love to play abroad’ one day, while Guardiola’s not-so-subtle response in his next press conference referenced how players must ‘do their talking on the grass’ and added squad members were ‘free to make the best decision’ for their futures.

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But since then, there has been a clear upgrade in Sterling’s performances. He has started the last five league games, missing just three minutes across those encounters, and has scored in four of his last six starts in all competitions.

He also seems to have found his groove once again from the wide areas, after Guardiola unsuccessfully trialled him as a central striker, an issue which is now impacting Jack Grealish’s on-field showings.

Sterling has scored 82 Premier League goals for Manchester City and 18 for Liverpool. Credit: Getty.Sterling has scored 82 Premier League goals for Manchester City and 18 for Liverpool. Credit: Getty.
Sterling has scored 82 Premier League goals for Manchester City and 18 for Liverpool. Credit: Getty.

Where does Sterling rank among the league’s greatest?

As the City boss said in his post-Wolves press conference, dips like the one experienced by Sterling earlier this season, are very much part and parcel of elite-level football.

“At his age, 100 goals is a lot. So congratulations,” Guardiola told reporters via video link. "Raheem has always been an important player, but sometimes the players drop. There are highs and lows in their careers.

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“What we want is the best from them. I am unfair sometimes because players are performing well and they don’t play and I don’t have an excuse to say ‘I am so sorry’. But when sometimes [they are] performing not well, we have to play another one.

"Of course he has scored goals lately; he is aggressive, he is committed defensively like always he has done. Over the years, Raheem has been incredibly important, but here it depends on performing, no more than that, and they have to do it every single game. His behaviour and his confidence is really good, he is aggressive in attack and this is important."

In that, there’s yet another veiled message for Sterling: keep it up, or you’re out. Yet should he maintain such levels, it’s worth pondering where exactly the No.7 will rank in the pantheons of City and Premier League legends.

At present, he’s just 16 goals off the top-20 all-time Premier League scorers, and Sterling will no doubt eye Gerrard’s tally of 120, which is highest-scoring tally for a non-centre-forward in the league’s history, although Salah might have something to say about before the end of the current campaign.

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In making it to 100 Premier League goals, Sterling can boast of a feat that Premier League legends Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dennis Bergkamp, Eden Hazard, Fernardo Torres and even, at present, Cristiano Ronaldo have not achieved.

At 27, the City winger should still have another five years at the game’s very elite level. How many league titles, cup competitions and even international triumphs could be achieved in that time frame?

There’s no denying Sterling is already a Premier League great, but what he does in the subsequent years could well see him go down as one of the division’s all-time best.