Gareth Southgate unconcerned by Raheem Sterling England drought

For Raheem Sterling, scoring goals for England remains perhaps the most significant unticked box on an increasingly impressive CV.

Yet having seen the Manchester City winger overcome many obstacles in his career, England manager Gareth Southgate has little doubt he will rise to the international challenge.

For 23-year-old Sterling, the contrast between his output at club and international level could hardly be more stark. His two goals from 44 England caps compares to 53 goals from 198 league appearances for Liverpool and Manchester City and his uncertain finishing at this summer’s World Cup in Russia divided opinion on his ability among England supporters.

Yet Southgate clearly believes the City winger is a man who relishes a challenge, having overcome criticism at his handling of his Anfield exit and the pre-World Cup furore over his gun tattoo, not to mention holding down his place in a Premier League-winning City side awash with world stars.

“In simplistic terms, we are just waiting for him to add goals to everything else,” said Southgate. “He’s producing those moments for his club, his level of performance with us has been really good and the one missing piece is his finishing.

“If he had scored twice in the summer everyone would have been viewing his tournament in a much more positive way. There is always another level to go to. I have no doubt he can take that challenge on.

“Look at last season with City – people said ‘will he get in, will he be able to be a big part of their season?’ He took it on and was one of their leading scorers and had a massive impact in the team that won the league.

“This time there’s Riyad Mahrez coming in and another challenge, and boom, there he is again.”

Southgate’s own reputation soared in Russia, resulting in a new four-year contract this week to keep him in charge until the 2022 World Cup. He remains coy on whether any clubs attempted to poach him but insists he was never tempted to look elsewhere. 

He is hoping to maintain the progress made in Russia on Friday in Rijeka when he renews hostilities with the Croatia side who sent his team out of the summer tournament at the last-four stage.

The game will be played behind closed doors – a punishment for Croatia for historic misbehaviour by sections of their support – and Southgate says he regrets the fact he will not see his young players perform in a hostile atmosphere. “We’ve got a different sort of experience and we’ve got to make sure we apply ourselves in the right way,” he said.