'Beloved' Sterling still vital to England - Guardiola
Pep Guardiola defended Raheem Sterling's World Cup performances after the England forward got back among the goals in Manchester City's opening 2-0 Premier League win at Arsenal.
Sterling fired the champions into a 14th-minute lead and proved a typical menace for the Gunners' defence to deal with at Emirates Stadium, where Bernardo Silva completed the scoring with an emphatic finish after the hour.
The 23-year-old started six matches for England in their run to the semi-finals of Russia 2018 and although tenacious, intelligent displays won praise in some quarters, Sterling's failure to find the net drew a share of criticism.
He explained his celebration in north London after dispatching a 50th career Premier League goal – cupping an ear as he wheeled away – was in response to those naysayers.
Guardiola acknowledged the often highly charged atmosphere in which Sterling's performances for his national side are judged but backed him to produce the goods for Gareth Southgate's team.
"If you judge the players in the World Cup on whether you score a goal or not… I think Raheem has this special relationship with English football, but he is so beloved in the locker room," the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss told a post-match news conference.
"He made very good things in the World Cup – how he moves and creates spaces for the other ones, runs in behind.
"He likes to score a goal. He tried but I am pretty sure that during the qualification for the European Championship he will be good for his country and sometimes score goals."
Sterling was thrust straight back into the starting line-up for City despite only returning to training on Monday and Guardiola marvelled at the physical attributes that allow his player to get up to speed so quickly.
"His mum and dad gave him a special body shape," he said. "He's small, tiny – so these kind of guys in one week are ready.
"We saw him be good in the training sessions. We needed a guy in that position and he did it well, except the last 20 or 25 minutes when he was a little bit tired. But that is normal.
"There is sacrifice from a lot of the players – Kyle Walker, John Stones, Fernandinho. We trained just one week, two weeks – a short, short time, but the spirit is there and that's the most important thing."
At the end of his briefing, the topic of Sterling's future returned to the agenda and Guardiola reiterated City's desire to secure a contract extension, with the winger into the final two years of his present deal.
"I am not a sports director. I try to make a good spirit in the locker room and win games," he added.
"We are delighted with him and we would like Raheem to stay. We count on him. After the difficult season before we arrived we said, 'you are part of it, we want to help you'.
"We like him to try to be happy. In the end, maybe the agents are not in agreement and it cannot happen. But he knows and his agent knows that we want him a lot."