Sterling impressed in creating Jermain Defoe's 21st-minute opener at Wembley – setting Gareth Southgate's side on the way to a win that left them four points clear at the top of Group F after Sunday's fixtures – but endured a mixed outing thereafter.
The 22-year-old passed up a glorious chance to double the lead early in the second half and made way for Marcus Rashford before Defoe's replacement Jamie Vardy made it two.
Southgate revealed Sterling had been playing in discomfort at his post-match news conference – a possible cause for concern for City boss Pep Guardiola, whose side face crunch clashes at Arsenal and Chelsea when they return to the Premier League after the international break.
"With creative players, they're going to try things. Sometimes those things are going to come off and sometimes they're not," Southgate said when asked about Sterling's display.
"He was a little bit tight in his back before the game and at half-time, so that was partly in my mind.
"Also, I felt we had Marcus and Jamie who would threaten in behind a bit more. Raheem probably likes to come and receive to feet a lot.
"At that stage of the game Adam [Lallana] and Dele [Alli] were playing well so that was the decision I took."
Southgate was keen to leave little doubt over Sterling's place in his future plans – the player having responded encouragingly for City this season following a nightmare Euro 2016.
"He's a player we really like. We don't have a lot of players in the country who can beat people in one v one situations," he said.
"He's explosive in those tight areas and he's going to get better and better.
"It's a young team and Raheem is still improving all the time. He's got the hunger and the desire to improve. He's a ballsy player and I like that about him."
Another of Southgate's creative forces – Liverpool playmaker Lallana – enjoyed a better time of things against opponents with limited ambition.
A beautifully deft pass for to set up Vardy's goal was a highlight of a performance that impressed his manager.
"I thought Lallana was excellent," Southgate added. "Adam injects something. He created a really good opening just before the first goal.
"When the game is in tight areas his quick feet and quick brain stand out."