Raheem Sterling produced his most impressive Manchester City performance to date by bagging a hat-trick against Bournemouth at the Etihad on Saturday.
But this could just be the start of Sterling’s goal scoring exploits for City, in a game in which he showed both incredible finishing and versatility.
In the absence of Sergio Aguero and David Silva, Sterling started behind lone front man Wilfried Bony, using his pace to penetrate through the middle.
His £44 million summer move from Liverpool was derided by some as inflated, but some of Sterling’s greatest strengths were seen as his youth and his positional flexibility – something he demonstrated fully against Bournemouth.
Earlier in the season the 20-year-old was deployed on the left wing, and had received praise for his work with Alexander Kolarov, both offensively and defensively.
This was evident in the 2-0 win at Goodison Park in late August, in which Sterling provided the assist for Kolarov to score.
The ex-Liverpool star’s only other goal in sky blue came in a 2-0 win against Watford the weekend after, in which he scored after a half-time switch allowed him to again play behind the striker after David Silva was shifted out wide.
While the Citizens have an abundance of players capable of playing the number 10 position in Manuel Pellegrini’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation in the likes of Silva, De Bruyne, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure, Sterling’s goal return certainly shows the damage he can do from a central position.
He has history in performing in this position too, as he provided nine goals and five assists in the 2013/14 season in which Liverpool came so close to clinching the title – with many of those coming from the number 10 role.
In fact, there is an argument that Sterling could be deployed as a lone front man, especially in tough away games, to allow City to form a more solid centre midfield.
However it is worth noting how effective the partnership was between Bony and Sterling this weekend, with the threat of Sterling’s pace and Bony’s strength a classic example of the big-man-little-man front line.
This also allowed Belgian Kevin De Bruyne to torment the Bournemouth defence from the left with his wonderful range of passing and a hammer shot.
The form of those three certainly bodes well for City ahead of a big week for Pellegrini’s side, in which they play Sevilla on Wednesday before the Manchester derby on Sunday.
Wherever he plays, if Sterling manages to keep producing significant attacking returns in these coming fixtures, £44 million will certainly begin to be seen as money well spent.
Image courtesy of Manchester City, via Youtube, with thanks