With the new season of FPL nearly a week away, lots of managers will turn their attention towards Manchester City players. However, with a premium price tag surrounding many of their players across various positions, it might be a case of just going with one or two assets for some. Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne can all provide as worthy attacking options on their day. Whereas the likes of Ederson, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Aymeric Laporte and Kyle Walker are perhaps the safest of the defensive option.
It’s easy in essence to look at the assets of Man City and pick a player based on last season’s performances and returns, however, I want to go one step further. Through analysing the impact that City’s lineup had on other players, particularly Sterling, we can hopefully get a better understanding of what it could mean for our fantasy teams. Pep Guardiola’s Man City is quite infamous in the FPL world for changing and rotating players. The three players of interest for the midfield analysis will be Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane. However I will try and mention players of other positions when applicable.
Many managers will be looking to fit in a premium player such as Aguero or Sterling. Both come in at £12.0m in FPL, making them the two most expensive options after Mo Salah. Those looking at formations such as 352, 343 or 442 might find themselves deciding between one of the two, given how balanced it allows the team structure to be. As opposed to comparing Aguero and Sterling as FPL options (which is a completely different topic), I will just focus on Sterling. The reason for this is that Aguero’s position rarely changes as the lone striker, but may drift into a wider position late into games if Gabriel Jesus subs on to play alongside him. Nevertheless, Sterling is a player who can find himself deployed on the left, on the right, or even in a more central role at times.
Left wing, right wing, central. It doesn’t really matter where the Man City attacker plays, correct? I mean he was the highest scoring FPL player last year after Mo Salah. While I agreed at first, I think it’s vital to look at where he performed best and why, especially considering we are shelling out so much money to have him in our teams. As always, I love to look at the context and conditions under which a player did or did not do well, and here is no different.
If we break down Sterling’s goal contribution from the left and the right side, we see that there’s not much difference. On the left he returned eight goals and four assists in 19 league appearances compared to nine goals and eight assists on the right wing throughout 14 appearances. But let us dive into this a bit deeper, as I’ve found three players to be the main influences on Sterling’s performances in FPL.
As we know, Bernardo Silva has become an extremely versatile player under Guardiola, and perhaps his most crucial player. The Portugeuse playmaker can play right wing, attacking midfield or in a traditional central midfield position. He almost seemed talismanic in Man City’s title runs at times with some of his magnificent performances. For the season gone by, he tallied up seven goals and eight assists. From attacking midfield alone, he managed five of those goals along with six assists – a clear indication of his prowess in this area of the pitch. When Sane and Mahrez found themselves out of form, Guardiola decided to shake things up and deploy Bernardo Silva out right for 11 of the last 14 games, shifting Sterling to a left wing position. The effects this had on Sterling are very apparent, which we will see in due course.
When Bernardo Silva excelled in attacking midfield, the combination of widemen does not seem to matter that much. However, in five of the nine games he scored or assisted in, Sane (left) and Sterling (right) were the wingers. It could be merely coincidence given the small sample size, but certainly something to keep in mind for now. The main thing here is that Bernardo Silva excels centrally in an attacking role.
During the time Sterling was shifted to the left wing, the Englishman saw seven blanks from 11 games at the end of the season. Now it has to be pointed out that he did manage returns in the other four; an assist against Arsenal, a brace and assist against Chelsea, a hatrick against Watford and an assist against Man United. In total, five goals and three assists from these four games. The returns were pretty impressive in those games, right? Obviously Sterling can haul at left wing so long as you’re patient. But what was different here compared to all the times he blanked? To address this, we must first look at another player.
The Algerian winger saw himself as a fringe player for most of the season last year. Despite this, he scored seven goals and four assists from a mere 1339 minutes. Whenever he featured, he occupied the right wing, meaning Sterling always moved to the left side in these instances. Sometimes his arrival saw Bernardo Silva withdrawn, other times it shifted Silva to a more central role. Either way, we will just focus on his impact on Sterling for now.
Over the whole season, Sterling played left wing in 19 games, scoring eight goals and four assists (as mentioned earlier). When Sterling played here with Mahrez on the right, he produced seven goals and two assists in just ten games. When Sterling played left wing with Bernardo Silva on the right, he produced just one goal and two assists from nine games. There is a vast difference in terms of goals contribution for Sterling here depending on who takes up the right wing position.
In the last paragraph, I mentioned that Sterling picked up five goals and two assists at the end of the season when he was moved to the left wing. While it is true Bernardo Silva was starting many games on the right wing at this time, it is vital to note that very few of Sterling’s returns came from when Bernardo Silva was on the right wing. For instance, one of Sterling’s goals against Chelsea was after Bernardo Silva dropped to midfield and Mahrez came on to play on the right wing. His three goals against Watford were all scored with Mahrez at right wing and Bernardo Silva centrally. And lastly, his assist against Man United only happened after he swapped to the right wing with the introduction of Sane late into the game, with Silva playing centrally. There is definitely a trend here.
Similar to Mahrez, Leroy Sane is a left-footed wide player. Where they differ vastly is their role in the team and the side of the pitch they play on. While Mahrez is exclusively a right-winger who loves to cut inside and shoot, Sane is a left winger who loves to run at his man and hug the touchline, crossing or shooting where possible and surging forward into space. There is a whole theory surrounding Guardiola’s willingness to play left-back Benjamin Mendy in the same side as Sane, but I want to avoid that for the moment. Ultimately, Sane has a positive impact on Sterling and here’s why.
Sterling started fourteen times at right wing throughout the season, scoring nine goals and setting up seven. Four of these nine goals were directly assisted by Sane, and one of these assists set up Sane, so there is definitely a good attacking chemistry involved between the two. Another improvement comes from the reduction in blanks Sterling saw playing at right wing. This works out at roughly 28% blanking rate compared to the huge 52% blank rate of playing on the left throughout the season. The question of whether Sane playing on the left or Sterling playing on the right is the key factor for Sterling’s appeal remains to be seen, but regardless, the numbers don’t lie.
A final point of note surrounds the return of Kevin de Bruyne. Last season saw the creative player miss out for sporadic periods and he struggled at times to regain fitness. Man City looked lacklustre at times in his absence and struggled to create their usual number of chances. We can expect his return to see more chances created for Man City, but whether it will be localised to one player like Aguero remains to be seen. While Bernardo Silva might be quite poor on the right wing in FPL terms and seems to dent Sterling’s appeal, he could still prove to be a great asset at attacking midfield.
The return of De Bruyne could boost this. Since last year, De Bruyne has seen his role change at both club and international level. Roberto Martinez dropped him deeper for Belgium, reinforcing his role as a deep-lying playmaker, much to De Bruyne’s frustration. In Man City’s Carabao Cup campaign we also saw glimpses of this from Guardiola, deploying the Belgian in a deeper role, often letting him drift into the spaces out right at times. Most recently, in preseason we have seen De Bruyne continuously being used in this same deeper role hinting that he will be used in this manner going forward. Essentially it doesn’t mean a whole lot, but Guardiola’s 433 might start to look more like a 4231 with one of the Silvas being handed that advanced attacking midfield role.
In conclusion, Raheem Sterling is a fantastic and devastating option in FPL, but we need to understand that other players affect him and his chances of doing well. While on first glance his left wing returns seem as good as his right wing returns, we need to consider the context and the players who were playing around him. Sterling thrives mostly on the right wing, with nine goals and seven assists and a blank rate of just 28%. He is at his worst playing on the left wing when Bernardo Silva occupies the right side, returning just one goal and two assists in nine games, a blank rate of 81%. Though the sample size might be somewhat small, I would certainly err caution when Bernardo Silva plays wide right until Sterling shows sign of delivering consistently under this scenario. Lastly, when playing with Mahrez on the right, Sterling has a blank rate of 30%, much similarly to when he plays right wing and almost the complete reverse of playing with Bernardo Silva on the wing. So hopefully as the season edges closer, we might have an idea how the wingers will line up, particularly if Sane leaves (should the rumours be true).