Pochettino should bring Sterling back into Chelsea side for Man City clash

Raheem Sterling of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on April 04, 2024 in London, England. 

Raheem Sterling should start in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City on Saturday evening if he is fit enough. Hear me out.

Sterling is hardly the most popular of players amongst Chelsea supporters right now – and while the consistent abuse he gets is abysmal, I can understand some the criticism directed at him. After signing for around £50million in the summer of 2022, there were big things expected from the England international, who has since falling out of Gareth Southgate's plans with the national team.

The 29-year-old has played almost 3000 minutes in all competitions this season for the Blues. Only seven players in the Chelsea squad have registered more minutes on the pitch since the beginning of the campaign. However, things certainly changed after that torrid afternoon – incidentally in the last round of the FA Cup – against Leicester City.

A penalty miss, one of the worst free-kicks – and I am not exaggerating – you will ever see and a host of missed chances saw Sterling booed off by a lot of those present inside Stamford Bridge on that day. Mauricio Pochettino, though, defended the winger.

"He has an unbelievable CV, like a player he has played in big teams, experienced player, of course, today he missed the penalty and some chances," Pochettino said after the game. "But look, I think I am happy with him and we are going to support and I see the chances we have, I think the chances to show that we are building something because I think we are going to support him and for sure we are going to get the lead on the game that he needs to help the team."

Since then, however, Sterling has made just two appearances – and both of them were from the bench. A combined total of 49 minutes against Burnley and Manchester United, before being an unused substitute in the draw with Sheffield United. And he missed Monday's win over Everton due to illness.

Sterling texted Chelsea staff last Thursday evening to say that he had not been well and ultimately did not recover in time for Monday night's game. Unfortunately when players suffer with illness, they quite often lose weight and energy, so that will be playing on Pochettino's mind ahead of the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City on Saturday evening.

The Jamaican-born winger will be assessed ahead of the weekend's fixture, with reports claiming he is now back in training at Cobham. If he is fit enough, then for me, he has to start at Wembley Stadium.

While I think Mykhailo Mudryk has done reasonably well in recent matches when called upon, for a game like this, the experience and know-how of Sterling could be crucial. Just look at how he performed against Man City, the club he played for over a seven-year period between 2015 and 2022, back in February.

Sterling opened the scoring at the Etihad Stadium on that day and ran Kyle Walker ragged down the left-hand side. He produced an arguable man of the match performance in Manchester. Chelsea are not going to have a lot of possession against City – that, at this point, is almost a certainty – so they are going to have to be deadly and clinical when they counter-attack and on that day in February, Sterling was more than useful in transitional phases.

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I do not expect there to be a lot of changes from the Chelsea side that beat Everton; as long as everyone has made it through the week unscathed. Enzo Fernandez and Axel Disasi have returned to training after missing the Everton game but will have a difficult time taking their places in the team back.

Conor Gallagher was superb against the Toffees, in a midfield pivot with Moises Caicedo, who was equally impressive. For Fernandez, this may be one where he comes on later in the game – something we have not seen too much of at all during his time at Stamford Bridge, so that could be an interesting dynamic for Pochettino.

While there should not be many changes, Sterling should be one of them. If he is indeed fit enough. He enjoyed playing against his former side so much last time that it feels right to bring him back in at Wembley.

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