Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola claims Raheem Sterling is a “fighter” and backed him to turn a hostile reception from Liverpool supporters into a valuable learning experience.
The manner of Sterling’s £49m departure from Anfield to City in July 2015 still rankles with Liverpool fans and he can again expect a similar reaction on Merseyside come Saturday evening.
Sterling failed to make a significant impact in either of City’s Premier League defeats to Liverpool last season as he produced two low-key performances.
Indeed, in City’s 3-0 loss at Anfield in March Sterling was substituted at half-time after a woeful first 45 minutes having seen his every touch booed by the home fans.
In many ways it encapsulated a difficult first season at City for Sterling, who struggled under previous manager Manuel Pellegrini.
However, the England international’s career has been reignited since Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium and he has recaptured the kind of form which persuaded City to make such a sizable outlay.
City’s trip to face Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool will be a barometer not only for their title aspirations but also a test for how far Sterling has progressed under Guardiola’s guidance.
“Obviously Raheem must focus on what he has to do himself – that’s the only way he can handle it,” Guardiola explained.
“Always it is difficult when the crowd is not on your side, they whistle, it’s not easy.
“But it is part of his growth and to become a better player. We are going to try and handle the situation. I am delighted about what he had done until now. He’s a fighter.”
Guardiola believes Sterling, 22, should have the confidence to play his natural game against Liverpool, and urged him not simply to take a safe option.
“We need his one-on-ones, his attacking with the ball,” Guardiola said.
“Of course he has talent, he has to read a little bit more – when to play one or two touches, when to go. Sometimes he has to dribble a little bit more
Raheem Sterling celebrates with David Silva after scoring Manchester City’s second against Arsenal (Getty)
“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.
“Of course all the players need a process to getting better but we are so happy with what he’s done.”
City have beaten Liverpool at Anfield once in all competitions since 1981, although Guardiola’s meetings with Klopp in the Bundesliga mostly went in the Spaniard’s favour.
Guardiola’s Bayern Munich beat Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund side in three of their four league matches with his only defeat, in April 2014, coming after Bayern had already wrapped up the title.
Sterling in action against Watford (Getty)
Klopp, however, had the edge in cup competitions with two wins in the German Cup and one in the German Super Cup.
Guardiola acknowledged his side must find a way to contend with the ‘heavy metal football’ that Liverpool play under Klopp.
He added: “When you play against teams by Jurgen Klopp, the tactics are so important. You have to be at that level but they have a specific way to attack and you have to control it.
“When he speaks about his football being heavy metal, I understand completely, it is so aggressive. For the fans it is really good.
“Maybe it is the best manager in the world creating teams who attack the back four, with this amount of players, this intensity, with the ball without the ball. It is not easy to do that.
“He is a huge motivator. When I saw what he did in Dortmund especially in the first year I was there he is able to maintain that level for a season.”
City have striker Sergio Aguero available again after a four-match suspension while centre-back John Stones should come into contention despite being substituted against Hull with a swollen knee.