Raheem Sterling’s first meeting with his former club Liverpool this weekend will be a “special occasion” for the player, Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini believes.
England forward Sterling is set to face the Reds for the first time on Saturday since his acrimonious and protracted £49million move from Anfield to City in the summer.
But while former City player James Milner may receive a warm welcome as he returns to the Etihad Stadium with Liverpool, Sterling can expect a different reaction from the visiting fans.
The 20-year-old has settled well at City, and already scored six goals for his new club, and Pellegrini hopes he can embrace the next challenge against his old club.
Pellegrini said: “I always think it is special for all players – not only Raheem – to play against the team they worked for for many players. Maybe for James Milner it will be exactly the same.
“But those situations are part of the career of the player. They are now defending another shirt.”
Pellegrini has been pleased with the progress Sterling, who burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old with Liverpool, has made at City. Questions have been asked of his finishing ability but the youngster has started to answer them with a hat-trick against Bournemouth last month and a vital strike at Sevilla in the Champions League.
Pellegrini said: “I always say that Raheem is a very young player. He must improve a lot and in important things.
“It is important also he can demonstrate it in every game but I am very happy with the way he is playing so far.
“He just 20 years old and he has a lot of years to work but he will be a very important player, not only for Manchester City but for England.”
The case of Milner is different to that of Sterling, who became embroiled in a contract dispute with Liverpool and questioned the Merseyside club’s ability to win silverware.
England midfielder Milner, 29, won four trophies with City but could not command a regular starting role in his preferred central position and decided to move on after his contract expired last summer.
Pellegrini said: “We did all we could to convince him to stay. He wanted to go to have another challenge and you must understand that if a player does not want to stay here, you cannot do any more to convince him. We tried to do all what we could.”
The Sterling and Milner factors add extra spice to Saturday’s intriguing Barclays Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium. The fixture could also see the leading strikers for both clubs, City’s Sergio Aguero and Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool, return to action after injuries while much fascination still surrounds new Reds boss Jurgen Klopp.
The atmosphere is also likely to be fevered with the rivalry between the clubs having intensified since their title duel in 2014.
Pellegrini said: “I think that one of the most important things in important games is to have a cold mind, maybe a hot heart, but a cold mind because there are a lot of mistakes. That is so important and I hope we can do it.”