Sterling show gives Guardiola headache

LONDON • Raheem Sterling will return to Premier League action for champions Manchester City against Burnley today with a spring in his step after ending his international goal drought in style .

And the issue now for the City hierarchy is tying him down to a long-term deal at the Etihad.

The forward's brace in England's 3-2 Nations League victory against Spain on Monday was the latest stellar showing that has already seen him contribute four goals and two assists in seven league matches this season.

His form could also make it harder for City manager Pep Guardiola to hang on to the player, with speculation increasing over a move to European champions Real Madrid.

Sterling's contract runs out at the end of next season and so far, talks over a new deal have proved inconclusive.

His value has risen since City agreed to pay nearly £50 million (S$89.7 million) to Liverpool for his services three years ago, but it is diminishing every week as he moves closer to becoming a free agent in 2020.

But for the time being, Guardiola can put Sterling's contract impasse on the back burner as he needs to decide whether to throw Kevin de Bruyne back into the fray.

The Belgium midfielder and City's Player of the Year is close to full fitness after three months out, having injured his knee just one game into the campaign.

De Bruyne, who has been in full training since before the international break, will be assessed before the Clarets clash.

Burnley's visit will also see the return of former City No. 1 Joe Hart, who made 348 appearances for the club in an 11-year spell.

And City defender Aymeric Laporte told reporters that the England custodian, who moved in the summer for £3.5 million (S$6.2 million), would get a rousing welcome in front of the home fans.

"He's (Hart) a very good goalkeeper and a very good person, too. He was well-liked by all the players and the supporters of City love him because of his achievements over the years," the Frenchman said.

"It will be nice to see him again and I am sure he will get a fantastic reception when he walks out on Saturday."

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MAN CITY V BURNLEY

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'Sterling show gives Guardiola headache'. Print Edition | Subscribe