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Liverpool's 2014 title slip drives Raheem Sterling at Manchester City

Pep Guardiola says he will "kill" any of his Manchester City squad if they get complacent after a flying start to the season, but one player he doesn't have to worry about is Raheem Sterling, who is desperate to claim his first Premier League winners' medal.

The England international has been in the form of his life, and with 13 in all competitions with six months remaining, has already broken his own personal-best goals haul for a season. Sterling, who turned 23 on Friday, has netted nine times in the league, which is the same as teammate Sergio Aguero and trailing only Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane of Tottenham in the top scorers' list.

Sterling hit the same total in 2013-14 when Liverpool were narrowly pipped to the title by City. Brendan Rodgers' side were three points clear with three games remaining and appeared set for a first title in 24 years, but then came Steven Gerrard's infamous slip in a 2-0 defeat by Chelsea, implosion at Crystal Palace -- and in less than of a fortnight.

City are eight points clear and have the chance to make it 11 with a win over closest rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, but Sterling has learnt from that painful end of the season.

"It's never over until it's over," Sterling said. "We were in great form [at Liverpool], having a great season. We were doing really well, and it slipped out of our hands just like that. Then it wasn't down to us anymore.

"It was really painful to be in that situation. That's why the goal against Southampton meant a lot to me because that could be a couple of vital points at the end of the season, and in this league that's what you've got to do: Get as many points as you can. You can't afford to slip up because the other teams will punish you, catch up and try to overtake you in the league."

Sterling's 96th-minute winner against Southampton was the third time this season that he has snatched a late winner for Guardiola's side. In August, a 97th-minute winner at Bournemouth was scruffier than his delightful 20-yard curler vs. Saints, but just as important and was celebrated with such delight that he was given a second yellow card.

Then there was the 86th-minute goal against Huddersfield Town that looped in off his thigh to settle a tense battle. Sterling also rescued a point in a 1-1 draw against Everton -- City's only blip in the Premier League this season -- and scored an 88th-minute winner in the 1-0 victory vs. Feyenoord in the Champions League.

The England international has possibly been the most influential player in City's club-record winning streak of 20 games, which was ended by Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek, and best-ever start to a Premier League season by any club.

"Every season I always set a [goals] target and I'm on course to try and reach that target this year, and hopefully I can pass it as well," he said. "I put it down to being purely just focused -- focusing on myself, focusing on my game and body and trying to do everything right.

"Maybe at 17 I didn't get rubs, ice baths, I wasn't doing the hot tubs, and now I'm getting to grips with all of that. Learning the game and learning what you need to do to keep in top shape and be ready for the next game that's always around the corner."

Raheem Sterling has shown a knack for scoring late winners with Manchester City this season.

City hit the headlines for a great start last year when they won their first 10 games, but the wheels fell off ,and they finished some distance behind champions Chelsea and second-placed Tottenham.

"They won more football matches and they were more consistent," Sterling said. "They were the two most consistent teams in the league. Defensively strong and they just knew how to win football matches. They just kept it for a long period of time. I think in this league you need to show you're consistent. You can't win one, lose one; you need to be consistent and as dominant as possible.

"[Pep's] probably giving us extra meetings and not just putting a team out to say, 'Go and win the game,'" Sterling said. "He's actually putting what he wants on the boards, and at the same time he's giving the players responsibility to take the game by the scruff of the neck and not make it just down to his tactics. He's a manager that knows football really well. He sees the game really well, and he knows exactly what he wants from his team."

Sterling should take his renewed confidence into the World Cup at the end of the season as part of a new generation of England players who are gaining vital Champions League experience. Sterling and City teammate John Stones will be in the Round of 16, as will Tottenham's Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier, and Marcus Rashford from Man United.

Despite that, England's hopes have largely been written off. Sterling was forced to pull out of the recent friendlies against Germany and Brazil, but says there was plenty to take from successive stalemates against the two highest-ranked sides in the world.

"People can write us off as much as they want. People thought Leicester would never win the Premier League. They were brilliant that season, and that's football," Sterling says. "You can have a patch where your mentality or spirit in the dressing room drives you through, and the spirit that's building in the England setup is becoming a whole, becoming one. There's not individual groups; there's a whole collective. Everyone talks, everyone's communicating and we're just trying to get together, address stuff.

"It's nice when you win or 4-0 or 5-0, but we're scoring goals. We're also not conceding any goals, and that's the most important thing. We probably didn't play the big teams in the qualifiers, but at the same time scoring and not conceding is the most important thing."

Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.


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