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Despite external criticism, Sterling is thriving under Guardiola at Man City

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Despite being booed at nearly every ground he goes to and an apparently desperate desire for Raheem Sterling to be labelled a flop, the England winger is coming into his own under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

His first season with his new club, following a £49million move from Liverpool, didn't set the world on fire. Sterling had a bright start and was a big part of City's great opening to the 2015-16 campaign but, by the time Manuel Pellegrini's side stumbled into fourth place in the table, the winger looked shot of confidence and didn't have the beating of a full-back.

It culminated in a terrible Euro 2016 display, where he was scapegoated for England's horrific performance.

However, a text message from Guardiola before the two had even met and during a difficult time with the national team would have been enough to bring Sterling back to Manchester brimming with confidence and that's exactly how he began the new season.

He won the Premier League's player of the month for August and was looking back to his destructive best; a key player in what City were doing to break teams down during their opening run of 10 wins in 10 matches.

Guardiola had moved Sterling to the right flank in contrast to Pellegrini, who asked him to play from the left and cut inside onto his stronger foot. By the end of 2015-16, the move had become predictable, easy to defend against and had little forward thrust. It killed momentum in City attacks.

Sterling later claimed Pellegrini stifled his natural game, saying he was discouraged from dribbling and taking on players and perhaps that's the biggest change since Guardiola has taken charge. One of England's most exciting young prospects had become a player, who looked like he was wilting under the pressure, but now he's back as one of the key men for his club again.

City have gone through a resurgence in form since a 4-2 defeat at Leicester, winning five of their last six matches. The run coincides with Sterling's upturn in fortunes; both he and Leroy Sane looked ineffective in the first half of the 2-1 victory over Arsenal but, having swapped flanks to their more natural sides with City trailing at half-time, they were far more potent and both scored in the comeback win.

Sterling was also an important factor in the 3-0 win at Hull on Dec. 26, cutting in from the right wing or getting to the by-line to deliver dangerous crosses. It was the uncertainty he caused that forced the home team into a rash challenge in the area; after the 22-year-old was fouled, Yaya Toure's penalty opened the scoring.

One week later, City were down to 10 men for roughly an hour in the win against Burnley but Sterling was decisive on the break. He should have scored himself when one-on-one with goalkeeper Tom Heaton and was unlucky to kick the floor when clean through, but it still created the chance for Sergio Aguero to smash the ball home spectacularly for the eventual winner.

And on Friday, when City demolished West Ham 5-0 in the FA Cup third round, Sterling was one of the driving forces once more. Again he was unlucky not to score; on his team's second goal, would have put the ball over the line had defender Havard Nordtveit not done it for him.

These are exactly the sort of performances Sterling was giving for Liverpool, in the early days of his career at City and for the opening matches of Guardiola's reign. Instead of looking shot of confidence, he's taking on defenders -- sometimes two or three times -- before whipping a dangerous ball into the area. He's breaking away at pace and putting the opposition on the back foot.

One of the biggest criticisms Sterling faced on the pitch last season was his indecisiveness. There were a number of times he'd get the ball and run it out of play or fail to make a pass just because he'd take too long to make up his mind.

Right now, he's the player Guardiola wants the ball to fall to on the counter-attack because he seems to know when to release it for a teammate or when to have a crack himself. The goal David Silva scored in Friday's win is testament to that; While everyone will remember the Spaniard's dummy on the goalkeeper, few will recall the quality of Sterling's pass to him to set up the chance in the first place.

It feels like Sterling's critics will be very difficult to please but, if he continues with the level of performance he's put in this season so far, then he'll go a long way to silencing the naysayers. He's exciting to watch again and that must be a terrifying prospect for opponents.