Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace host in-form Manchester City with the manager wary of the threat posed by the improved, “maturing” Raheem Sterling.
The 23-year-old has consistently been one of City’s most influential players, and on Sunday at Selhurst Park is again expected to be significant as they pursue a 19th straight victory in the Premier League.
Hodgson worked with Sterling at Liverpool before handing him his England debut and making him a key part of his team.
For all of the promise he then showed, he has vastly improved under the management of Pep Guardiola at City, and Hodgson said: “He’s added goals to his game and he’s starting to get into the penalty box a lot more. You must give credit to the club for the work they are doing.
“Over the last two seasons, I’ve started to see signs of his maturity. When players burst onto the scene very young like Raheem did and everyone starts to rave about them and talk about their potential, it can very often work against them.
“They need time to get matches under their belt, to get the maturity.
“What I’m seeing is a player who still has the same level of ability, the same pace to be able to beat a man, but also a more mature individual who really understands what being a top Premier League player in a top Premier League team is about.
“Like Raheem, [my former England players] are maturing all the time. Harry Kane is maturing all the time, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere; all of these guys.
“It’s now two years down the road since I last worked with them [Euro 2016]. That’s two years of playing Premier League football and Champions League football: I’ve always said that makes a big difference.”
Hodgson was concerned about the recent incident of racial abuse against Sterling.
Manchester United fan Karl Anderson was jailed after pleading guilty to racially aggravated common assault on the player at City’s training ground, and Hodgson said: “Intelligent people do not like seeing anybody being racially abused.
“I believe he’s been caught: let’s hope it deters others from doing the same thing.”
As with Hodgson, Sterling has been heavily criticised for the failings of the England national team, but the 70-year-old believes that that is almost inevitable.
“I’m sorry but if you want to play for England then that’s par for the course,” he said. “That’s the way things are. Once you put the England shirt on, just get ready for abuse. You also get a lot of praise if it goes well.
“I’m sure he’s handled that very well and I’m sure he’s got a very bright England future, like a lot of those players that I was working with during my time there because I think they have great quality and potential.”
France midfielder Yohan Cabaye [knock] remains a doubt for Palace, who on Tuesday travel to Southampton for their third Premier League fixture in six days.