Raheem Sterling got the breakthrough, courtesy of a beautiful ball from Jordan Henderson, as he set the scene for Liverpool to edge out Southampton 2-1 in a tightly contested affair in their Premier League opener.
But after forcing his way into the Liverpool first-team setup under Brendan Rodgers two seasons ago, the youngster was restricted to limited minutes last campaign, as Philippe Coutinho rotated with him, in Rodgers’ unconventional, yet effective 4-4-2 diamond formation.
However, he was introduced back into the first-team frame towards the run in of last term. Unfortunately they finished 2nd on the final day, with Manchester City triumphant.
But Rodgers’ faith in the 19 year-old was highlighted, because putting a fledging player like Raheem into the deep end can cause nervousness and ultimately failure to thrive under the pressure. Sterling did not crumble; instead he netted a couple of times, (notably a fantastic finish against Norwich tops the lot), and got some assists to his name, as his emergence as a key player was confirmed.
His exquisite execution against the Saints at the weekend was calm, composed and collected. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but when put through on goal, others have a propensity to “bottle it”. Sterling is not one of those players and with Suarez departed to Barcelona; he’s the main man now.
Of course some may beg to differ, saying Daniel Sturridge is their most important player due to his goal scoring records and that is fine, so long as you can give a credible argument. But the 24 year-old’s penchants for regular niggles and knocks are evident and as far as I’m concerned, I haven’t witnessed Sterling suffer injury often.
Sterling is stupendous, a genuine intimidation to the opposition. The intensity in his game, how he presses the ball and technically; he’s very conscious for a young player. When he runs at the opponent he fashions many opportunities. At 19 years of age he’s a true talent and getting better all the time.
Rodgers system benefits Sterling. Whether on either wing in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, or deployed in the Number 10 role in the diamond, his flexibility means he will be a permanent fixture in the Reds starting XI.
With the likes of Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana and Emre Can settling into life at their new club, Sterling has the weight of expectation thrust upon his nimble shoulders and I believe he will handle it effortlessly.
Bear in mind, Sterling had scored more goals from open play from match day thirteen onwards than any other midfielder in the league last term. He has undoubtedly grown since 2012/13 in front of goal.
He’s definitely far more clinical when 1-v-1 with the shot-stopper. With his dribble rate also improving, it’s observable that, as the years proceed, he’s increasing his productivity, becoming an imposing figure and remaining confident under Rodgers’ leadership.
England boss Roy Hodgson was also impressed. After the former QPR academy player cemented himself in Liverpool’s first team, he was quickly promoted from the England U-19s to the senior England squad and made his World Cup bow, as one of the bright spots in a rather dismal outing for the Three Lions.
Certainly it took a while for the faithful to get over last season’s collapse, but with the Champions League on the horizon they are mentally prepared and looking forward to the future. Sunday’s victory demonstrated the team’s resolve and ability to grind out results when needed and now the stage is set for Sterling to be successful.
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