MANCHESTER (Reuters) – Pep Guardiola says hat-trick hero Raheem Sterling can still improve further and it will be up to the Manchester City forward as to whether he fulfils his potential and becomes a great of the game.
Sterling, 24, had a hand in all five goals, including an 11-minute hat-trick, as City romped to a 5-1 Champions League victory over Italian side Atalanta on Tuesday, to take his tally to 12 goals in 13 appearances this season.
His link-up play with Sergio Aguero and Phil Foden was at times breathtaking, leading to former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand to suggest on BT Sport after the game he was now among the top five players in the world.
“How much better he can become depends on him,” Guardiola told reporters. “I think he has that desire to get better. I say all credit is for him. He’s a guy whose physicality is incredible.
“The day after a game, he could play another. He can play both sides, he’s fast, defensively he helps us a lot, he’s an extraordinary player.”
City fell behind to a Ruslan Malinovsky penalty but reacted by stepping up the tempo after a slow start to overwhelm their visitors and make it three wins from three in the pool. They will seal a knockout place with a win at Atalanta on Nov. 6.
“It was an incredible effort because Atalanta have a lot of quality. They are a top team. That’s why I am so satisfied. Nine points, we need one more win to be in the next stage.”
The only blemish on the night was a red card for teenager Foden, who had been excellent until two sloppy pieces of play saw him collect a couple of yellow cards in a six minute spell.
But Guardiola backed the 19-year-old and says it will be a lesson for him.
“With Phil, the important thing is not the red card but the way he played. He has to be a bit more clever when he has the first yellow.
“He has to live this kind of situation to understand. The first yellow card, be careful. The result was 5-1, but it could have been different if it had been 2-1 or 3-1. That experience is going to help him.”
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Toby Chopra)