Pep Guardiola has stated his belief that Raheem Sterling is mentally tough enough to deal with the boo boys on his return to Anfield to face fellow title challengers Liverpool.
Sterling’s first visit to his old stomping ground in March – a match City lost 3-0 – saw the Manchester City winger struggle to ignore the raft of criticism from the Liverpool faithful, and he was subsequently hauled from the pitch at the interval due to his dreadful performance.
The 22-year-old has been in impressive form for Guardiola’s side this term, however, with six goals and 10 assists racked up in 23 appearances in 2016/17.
The Spaniard has now backed Sterling to rise above the baying Anfield crowd and put in a display that will silence those who once worshipped his young star’s ability.
Guardiola told the Daily Express: “It is always difficult when the crowd is not on your side, they whistle, it is not easy, but it is part of his growth to become a better player.
“We are going to try and handle the situation. Obviously he must focus on what he has to do himself – that’s the only way he can handle it. He’s a fighter.
“In the first part of the season he was our key player up front. Then one month ago, he was a little bit down, two or three games where he wasn’t aggressive like in the first part of the season. And then in the last two or three he came back and we need that.”
Guardiola did admit that Sterling still needed to continue learning his trade if he was to fulfil the potential that many saw in him after he burst onto the Premier League scene, and said he believed that the ex-Queens Park Rangers youth product would come good if given the time to do so.
“We need his one-on-ones, his attacking with the ball, and when he is without the ball helping the back four.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) 30. prosinca 2016.
“Of course he has talent but he has to learn a little bit more – when to play one or two touches, when to go. Sometimes he has to dribble a little bit more. But that’s part of the process.
“I am delighted about what he had done until now. In the last two games he was decisive, the goal against Arsenal, the penalty against Hull when the game was tough, and we cannot forget he is so, so young.”
City can leapfrog Liverpool into second place in the league standings if they secure victory over the Reds on Saturday evening.