Raheem Sterling

Champions League
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Man City makes statement, comes back in Madrid

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Kevin De Bruyne‘s second-half star show led Manchester City to a 2-1 comeback win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in Wednesday’s first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

Isco had put the hosts ahead in the 60th minute off a Vinicius Junior assist, but De Bruyne set up Gabriel Jesus for a 78th-minute header before converting a Raheem Sterling-won penalty five minutes later.

[ MORE: Pep, KDB, Jesus react to win ]

Sergio Ramos was sent off in the 87th minute for a pullback on Jesus and will miss the second leg, while Aymeric Laporte was injured for City.

The second leg is March 17 at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola‘s tactical approach clearly surprised Zinedine Zidane, with Jesus in a left midfield/wing back role and De Bruyne up top.

Aymeric Laporte’s injury in the 33rd minute certainly hampered City’s thoughts of a big win.M

Bernardo Silva ripped a left-footed effort in the opening minute as City came out of the gates well.

The next real chance came from Gabriel Jesus, slipped in by a Kevin De Bruyne through ball but denied by Thibaut Courtois.

Ederson denied Karim Benzema point blank in the 30th minute, and Rodrigo fumbled the rebound in what should’ve been an easy 1-0 to the hosts.

Real used a goal line clearance to deny Jesus off a corner kick, as Courtois slapped Kevin De Bruyne’s set piece to the Brazilian at the back post.

Fede Valverde saw a yellow for taking down Ilkay Gundogan in the 48th minute.

A Casemiro mistake sent De Bruyne on a long dribble, the Belgian finding Riyad Mahrez for a shot that swirled high and wide of the goal.

Real found a breakthrough against the run of play in the 60th minute, Isco slotting under Ederson off a Vinicius Junior pass between Kyle Walker and Fernandinho.

It was terribly sloppy from Nicolas Otamendi and Rodri in a turnover with poor response.

But De Bruyne darted into the box and turned a delightful chipped cross to Jesus, who outleapt a stumbling Sergio Ramosto turn a header past Courtois.

Then Dani Carvajal chopped down substitute Raheem Sterling to put De Bruyne on the spot. The Belgian had a salve for City’s recent penalty issues.

Guardiola confirms Sterling fit, ready to return v. Real Madrid

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Pep Guardiola has hailed Raheem Sterling‘s “amazing” ability to recover from injury as well as the player’s insatiable desire to return to action for Manchester City, while also confirming the 25-year-old is “fit and ready” for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal to let Lacazette leave for a Champions League club ]

On Wednesday, the same day that Man City filed its appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport regarding UEFA’s two-year European ban, Guardiola’s side is set for the first leg in its round-of-16 tie in the Spanish capital. The return of Sterling, who has been out since suffering a hamstring injury three weeks ago, will give City a massive boost — quotes from the BBC:

“Raheem is fit, his natural physical condition and regeneration is amazing.

“He told us he could play at West Ham and Leicester but the doctors said be careful as muscular injuries take three weeks. After 15 days, he wanted to play. He is fit, he is ready.”

As for whether or not his side feels any extra pressure to win the Champions League, the only trophy which has eluded them during the Sheikh Mansour era, particularly due to the fact they’re currently set to be excluded from the competition for two seasons, Guardiola insists “there is no special motivation.”

“These players will have a lot of chances to win the Champions League. This season is a big opportunity. I know we play the king of this competition and we know the challenge in front of us but, at the same time, it’s not the last one.

“When you die, after there are no more chances. But in life, if you are in this business and you want to train and play, you never know what is going to happen. There is no special motivation.”

Pep reacts to Sterling’s Real Madrid comments

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola has responded to comments from his player Raheem Sterling about their upcoming UEFA Champions League opponents Real Madrid.

Sterling, 25, spoke to Spanish outlet AS and confirmed that he is really happy at Man City ‘right now’ but admitted that Real Madrid are a ‘fantastic club’ and waxed lyrical about their famous white shirt.

“Right now I’m at City and I’m really happy. But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club,” Sterling said. “When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive. [Rumours of their interest], it’s something that you see all the time, but I’m a City player and I’m enjoying it at the moment, even if things haven’t gone quite planned in the league.

“We now have a massive opportunity in the Champions League. I keep saying Real Madrid is a fantastic club, there’s lovely weather, but I keep saying that I am quite happy at City. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it’s a fantastic club.”

The photo on the front of AS showed Sterling with a Real Madrid shirt on one shoulder and a Man City shirt on the other.

Guardiola was asked about his response to those comments and if he thought Sterling, or any other players, would be less committed to Man City given their two-year ban from European competitions.

“Players are free to talk and say what they believe and think,” Guardiola said. “We are not hear to tell them what they think. I am sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many years and nothing changes.”

Sterling has returned to training after two weeks out through injury and he could play at Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Guardiola’s men aim to open up a seven-point gap to third-place Leicester with a win.

Sterling’s comments are complimentary about Real Madrid and given their reported admiration for him for quite some time, the timing of saying this is a little odd given City’s ban from UEFA and so much uncertainty around the future of the club in the Champions League.

Despite Guardiola committing himself to staying at Man City for next season and until the end of his contract in the summer of 2021, his players will get plenty of offers to leave if the Champions League ban is upheld. Lionel Messi has joked that Barcelona should “sign the lot of them!” when asked about Sergio Aguero and others signing for the Spanish giants.

Sterling isn’t the first or last Man City player who will be targeted by European giants over the next few months as the situation remains uncertain.

PL Sunday preview: Bournemouth travel to Sheffield United; City host West Ham

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as a pair of top-six sides host a pair of bottom dwellers.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Sheffield United vs. Bournemouth  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

90 minutes against Bournemouth stands in the way from Sheffield United packing their bags and heading off to Dubai for a week-long winter break. 13 matches and a handful of wins also stands in the way from Sheffield United from qualifying for European competition next season.

The Blades, who are easily the healthiest side in the league, head into Sunday’s match with two thirds of a season for the ages: 36 points in 25 matches, one point behind fifth-place Tottenham – all on their first year back in the league.

Despite the European conversation around the Blades, the mythical 40-point mark remains the objective for Chris Wilder. Once there, they’ll take it one match at a time.

“Forty has always been a big number for a newly-promoted side,” he said leading up to Sunday’s bout. “After we get that it’ll always be about the next three points.”

Eddie Howe‘s Bournemouth, with two consecutive wins under their belts, could be in worse shape. The two-point cushion between (and the back-to-back wins) has been a morale boost for the side, which may be an x-factor on Sunday.

“I don’t think anything has necessarily changed,” Howe said. “We won the game against Brighton, it was a key game. It was a battling performance, a performance full of heart. Villa was a much-improved overall performance. The challenge now is to back it up.”

INJURIES: Sheffield United — OUT: None | Bournemouth — OUT: Danjuma (ankle), Brooks (ankle), Daniels (knee), Kelly (hamstring), Mepham (knee); SUSPENDED: Lerma (one match)

Manchester City vs. West Ham — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

You can’t talk Manchester City without brining up their 22-point deficit to leaders Liverpool. You just can’t. Not even Pep Guardiola was able to circumvent the conversation leading up to Sunday’s game against a depleted West Ham. 

“We cannot deny the gap is big,” he said. “We didn’t expect to be 22 points behind but it’s the reality. We have to accept it and learn from it.”

The question then becomes: Can Manchester City, without Raheem Sterling and all of its flaws, finish the season second best? Leicester City are currently only two points behind, while Chelsea have much ground to make up 10 points back.

It’s far too early to know the answer, but matches like Sunday’s at the Etihad, against inferior opponents, can’t be taken for granted. Guardiola and company have fallen for that too many times this season. They can’t afford to do so again, surely.

As expected, West Ham, who are desperately trying to get out of the relegation threat, are ready to leave it all out on the field, even if the odds stack against them. They have no choice.

“The ones coming up at the moment look much harder, but it’s where we are at the end of the season that will really count,” Irons manager David Moyes said ahead of Sunday’s clash.

INJURIES: Manchester City — OUT: Sané (knee), Sterling (hamstring); SUSPENDED: Zinchenko (one match) | West Ham — OUT: Felipe Anderson (back), Yarmolenko (thigh), Wilshere (hernia)

Sterling return from hamstring injury ‘weeks’ away

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Pep Guardiola confirmed he is worried about the absence of Raheem Sterling. The England international suffered a hamstring injury late in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham last weekend, and Guardiola called it a “problem” for his squad.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s game against West Ham, the Manchester City boss said Sterling is “weeks” away from a return and ominously recalled recent long-term injuries to Ilkay Gundogan and Aymeric Laporte, both of whom were sidelined for nearly a full season.

“It’s a hamstring injury, we will see,” Guardiola said of Sterling during his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester City’s home Premier League game against West Ham on Sunday. Sterling was already ruled out of this weekend’s match yesterday. “It takes weeks, but I don’t know [his status] right now.”

“It’s a problem being without him,” Guardiola continued, “but we were without Gundo in the first season and Laporte this season, it is what it is.”

Thankfully for City and Sterling, the injury comes well-timed with the February break upcoming. The club has its home match against West Ham this weekend and then does not re-take the field again until February 22 with a road visit to Leicester City. However, should Sterling’s injury linger, his status for the he return of Champions League play could be in jeopardy, with the first leg of City’s Round of 16 matchup against Real Madrid scheduled for February 26.

With Sterling’s absence looming, the possibility of fellow winger Leroy Sane returning from his ACL injury to take Sterling’s place was brought up, but Guardiola shot that down, saying that Sane is recovering well but will need an extended amount of time to regain full match fitness. “He’s started to train with us, he needs to recover the tempo and confidence, don’t think about the injury. It’s not like an ankle or a muscular injury, it needs time. He’s training with the main group, he needs weeks.”

Sterling has been a reliable workhorse over the past few seasons, logging over 2,500 Premier League minutes in each of the last three campaigns. Man City should cope with his injury relatively well, with Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez both fit and available to step in on the wings, and both David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne also capable of deputizing out wide as well in a pinch.

The 25-year-old’s absence is also an issue for Gareth Southgate as well, with England already missing Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford long-term. While theoretically a hamstring injury shouldn’t keep Sterling from missing any international duty with the next game not scheduled until late March, muscle issues of this nature are always a worry, especially at a point in the season where fatigue begins to truly take a toll.