Raheem Sterling to Man City? Liverpool could be the real winners
There's always at least one transfer saga that promises to drag on longer than it needs to every summer, with its outcome seeming inevitable from the word go. David De Gea's proposed switch from Manchester United to Real Madrid could fall under that category this time around, while Raheem Sterling's expected departure from Liverpool is another.
Manchester City seem to be at the front of the queue for the wantaway winger, reportedly having had two notable bids rejected for the 20-year-old already. WhoScored take a look at whether a deal would be worthwhile for both parties and who could potentially get the better end of the deal.
There's no question that Sterling has been a crucial player for the Reds over the past two seasons, having a real say in a breakthrough campaign that coincided with Liverpool's unlikely title charge in 2013-14. There's also little doubt that the England man's form has tailed off in the current calendar year.
Sterling faced plenty of ridicule when he requested not to play for his country back in October because of fatigue, and in January he was given a break from domestic duty by manager Brendan Rodgers due to fears of burnout. Criticism was harsh on a player who had featured in a great deal of competitive action for both club and country over the past two years at such a young age and it's reasonable to suggest this would have affected his form.
More pertinently with regards to his regression was the ill-advised timing and manner of the revelations about his future in an unsanctioned interview with the BBC. It was around this time his form on the pitch was also suffering.
His WhoScored average rating was just 6.73 in the five appearances he made after netting against Newcastle in April. That goal would prove to be a solitary strike in his final 11 league outings for the club, indicative of a player that was struggling for form and confidence. A rating of 7.27 over the course of the season was still enough to rank second -- to Philippe Coutinho -- for Liverpool but that was down on his figure of 7.40 from last season.
But when looking at Liverpool's record with and without Sterling in the starting XI, it becomes clear that, provided they find a way to replace his attacking threat, the club could cope if he were to leave.
Of the 58 league matches the youngster has started over the last two seasons, the Reds have won a marginally lower number (56.8 percent) than in the 18 matches he was omitted from the starting lineup (61.1 percent). Liverpool suffered just three defeats in games without his services from the start, scoring slightly more goals per game than when he was included in the XI (2.1 to 2.0).
So, if Sterling is a player whom Liverpool could arguably afford to lose, is he one that City should afford to buy, particularly given the hefty £50 million price tag the Merseysiders are holding out for?
Given that much of his late season issues could be attributed to off-field distractions and a lack of motivation, City are perhaps wisely overlooking Sterling's recent slump. When considering that a criticism targeted at Pellegrini's side last season was a lack of a plan B, particularly in the final third, their interest in the 20-year old is certainly understandable.
Sterling possesses a more direct threat when running with the ball than any of the players at City's disposal last season, averaging three dribbles per 90 minutes -- double that of the likes of Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas (1.5) and three times that of Liverpool newcomer James Milner (1.0).
He also averaged more shots per 90 minutes (2.5) than any of City's attacking midfielders last season, though a modest return of seven league goals for such a high frequency of efforts on goal highlights more of a weakness in Sterling's repertoire than a strength.
He's last in terms of key passes when compared to Silva, Nasri, Navas and Milner though, with 2.2 per 90 minutes, but his remains a more than respectable figure that would likely rise in a team of City's quality. Given that Sterling can play across a line of three his versatility certainly matches that of the players at Pellegrini's disposal, which will be appealing to the Chilean in what is at times a fluid attacking trio behind Sergio Aguero.
Sterling's rating of 7.27 from WhoScored last season was considerably down on that of David Silva (7.53) but also a significant advance on the rest of those in similar positions available to City. In turn, his would be a signing that would make sense for City on paper, but whether or not it adds up in terms of their bank balance is another matter.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have done well to sign Milner as an alternative to Sterling already and if links to the likes Roberto Firmino and Son Heung-Min are to be believed then it's clear that they are gearing up for life without their prized asset. With the player seemingly so desperate for a move, the Reds would be best to cut their losses at such an astronomical price. They may even get the better end of the deal.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with the new free-to-download WhoScored app.