Sterling aims to spark Chelsea ahead of Tottenham game

·5 min read

LONDON (AP) — Raheem Sterling is aiming to become more of a leader and a direct attacking threat at Chelsea after leaving Manchester City in search for more playing time.

Chelsea may need both of those attributes on Sunday when it hosts Tottenham in the season’s first meeting between two of the “Big Six” teams.

“Inside the changing room and at the football club, there’s a developing side of me which I’d like to see a lot more, and that’s to be more involved in decisions in the dressing room, to be more vocal, and try to drive the team on," Sterling said during a news conference Thursday.

The England winger added that another reason for joining Chelsea was that manager Thomas Tuchel wanted him to play a more direct role on the field as well.

“I think he (Tuchel) said to me it’s my directness, always threatening in behind," Sterling said. "But most importantly it’s how I attack the box, and with the fullbacks that we have here he said that’s the one thing he wants to see a lot more.”

Chelsea is without an out-an-out striker after Romelu Lukaku returned to Inter Milan on loan and Timo Werner rejoined former club RB Leipzig. That meant Sterling played up front in the team's opening 1-0 win at Everton, but the team often looked short of attacking ideas at Goodison Park.

Tottenham, meanwhile, brushed aside Southampton 4-1 and looked like a team that had taken several steps forward after a first full offseason under manager Antonio Conte. The Italian will be returning to Stamford Bridge — where he led Chelsea to the 2017 Premier League crown — in search of a statement win that would really signal that Tottenham is ready to join champion City and Liverpool in the race for the title.

Sterling won four league titles at City after joining from Liverpool, but the 27-year-old London native said his decision to leave Pep Guardiola's team was also based on the fact that he found himself on the bench more often last season.

“I just felt my time at City was getting limited on playing time for different reasons,” Sterling said. ”Since 17, I’d been a regular starting, so to get to a peak time in my career, not to play regularly is something I wouldn’t accept. My personality is to try to fight and change the scenario, but it didn’t happen and that’s it."

Both Manchester clubs are in action Saturday, with United trying to bounce back from an opening-day loss against Brighton when it travels to Brentford in the late game. City hosts Bournemouth in one of the five afternoon kickoffs. Liverpool hosts Crystal Palace on Monday.

LEICESTER TRIES TO FEND OFF SUITORS

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers entered the last few seasons facing expectations of taking the team to the Champions League. This time a more realistic goal seems to be just keeping the team together.

Leicester is the only Premier League club yet to make a signing in the transfer window, while there is constant speculation that several of its best players could be on the way out.

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has already left, while Chelsea is pursuing a deal for center-back Wesley Fofana — although Rodgers said two bids for the defender came in well short of the club's valuation. There's also constant speculation about midfielders James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, the latter of which is reportedly a top target of Leicester's opponent on Saturday, Arsenal.

So instead of focusing solely on tactics, Rodgers is having to make sure the uncertainty doesn't unsettle his players.

“The message to all of the squad, not just the players there is speculation about, just keep your eyes on the ball,” Rodgers said Thursday. “Keep the focus on the football, we know it is a time of year where there is speculation, but it is something I haven’t seen so much in the group.”

Leicester opened the season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw against Brentford, having led 2-0 until the 62nd minute. It now faces a trip to the Emirates on Saturday to face an Arsenal team that beat Crystal Palace 2-0 in the opening round and looks to have been strengthened by its new signings, including striker Gabriel Jesus.

“Arsenal have gone to a new level with the three players who have come into the team," Rodgers said.

LEEDS STILL LOOKING FOR STRIKER

Leeds' American manager Jesse Marsch is not in a hurry to strengthen his team's attack despite the club having failed to sign a new striker.

Leeds has added eight new players since narrowly avoiding relegation on the last day of last season but has so far missed out on its striker targets — including Charles De Ketelaere, who chose AC Milan instead. Patrick Bamford started up front in Saturday's 2-1 win over Wolverhampton.

The club remains in the market for a striker, but Marsch said it's all about finding the right fit.

“A lot of it is looking for the right profile, what age we want, without suffocating some of the young players getting chances in the next few years," Marsch said ahead of Saturday's game at Southampton. “The way I like to play the game, we ask a lot of our strikers, to work hard, to press. It’s a very demanding position the way I like to play. We’re trying to find the right one and I think we are being very aggressive in evaluating what’s out there.”

SCORCHING TEMPERATURES

English teams will all face a common challenge this weekend: the heat.

Temperatures in London are forecast to hit 34 C (93 F) on Saturday, with extreme heat warnings having been issued for the southern half of England.

Premier League games will feature water breaks midway through each half to help players stay hydrated.

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Mattias Karén, The Associated Press