Raheem Sterling’s rise to the crème has been nothing short of sensational this season and Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers rightfully singled out the England International for praise after Liverpool’s narrow 3-2 win at Carrow Road which saw the Reds move five points clear at the summit of the Premier League table and take a giant leap towards winning their first league title for 24 years.
Sterling opened the scoring with a cracking strike and laid on the second for Luis Suarez to score his 30th league goal of the campaign. The Englishman piled further misery on the hosts with his third, albeit courtesy a fortunate deflection. It was a display deserving of Brendan Rodgers’ post match comments when he spoke in glowing terms of Sterling’s ability and maturity – “Arguably the best young player in Europe,” was Brendan Rodgers’s summary as Sterling’s impressive all-round performance put Liverpool in a commanding position to seal their 19th league title.
Rodgers added, he’s always had the talent but I’ve been really pleased with his maturity, He’s put an awful lot of time into his work. We’ve tried to play him in different positions to improve his intelligence.
“Today he was at the tip of the diamond, he was predatory and comfortable in possession. But when he had to go wider he switched as well, which shows how intelligent he is as a footballer. He’s got that belief he can be a really good player and he’s really humble.”
At the highest level, football is so much about pressure – not only what you do, but rising to the occasion when it really counts. Sterling was equally impressive in Liverpool’s nerve-wracking 3-2 win against Manchester City – arguably their biggest game of the season, and has shown all the signs that he has all it takes to be a top-level performer for both club and country.
Sterling has evoked hype and caution in equal measure. Here is a player England can bank on for the future, or so it seems. Finally a player from England, who after all the hypes has lived upto the expectations (atleast in the league) so far. Elegant, classy, unfussy and utterly beautiful. This 19-year-old Englishman has pace, close control, barrel-chested strength and his sense of movement is immaculate for a player who is 19 and has his peak years ahead of him.
While SAS continue to get all the hype, Sterling has been quietly putting in performances and impressing everyone, especially the neutrals like me. Much like many English youngsters in recent times who have flattered to deceive. Wasn’t David Bentley the next David Beckham? Or Cleverly the next Scholes?
But just the mere fact that a 19-year old has been the most important piece in the jigsaw of the topsy-turvy shows that Sterling is far beyond the rough diamond that the English media so often raves about.
Sterling has so far scored 8 goals in the league this season adding to the 4 assists he has made which includes 42 chances created for his Liverpool peers with an 80% accuracy in his passing. Another important factor that Sterling has added to his game is his work rate, he doesn’t mind tracking back and doing the dirty work. The 53% Duels he has won this season, stands a testament to that.
Although Sterling’s primary position is on the wings when he was signed from QPR, Rodgers was clever enough to deploy him in a free role which has certainly aided the youngster in a more productive way. His interchange of positions with SAS and Coutinho is a delight from a tactical standpoint and a nightmare for the defenders. Sterling’s intelligence came to the fore at Carrow Road when he combined his predatory instincts in front of goal with his awareness in picking the passes, drifting into the channels on some occasions and running in behind the defensive line on other occasions.
At a make-or-break point in Liverpool’s season when skipper Steven Gerrard has been more overwhelmed by emotion, Sterling has risen above all in the past few weeks and let his game do the talking, so often single-handedly driving Liverpool to that much coveted first Premier League crown. There is an unmistakable maturity about his game, an unfazed belief in his own ability. Rewind to his first goal of the game, barely before the crowd at Carrow Road had taken their seats on a lazy Sunday afternoon. On receiving the pass from Coutinho, Sterling took three steps, jinked away from the hapless Bradley Johnson, and then with a low-backlift, smashed a low-shot past John Ruddy’s right hand.
Speed, composure, strength and awareness for all to admire. The second goal was a testament to Sterling’s ability to pick the perfect pass. Drifting into a pocket of space in the inside-left channel, Sterling played in the most perfect invitation for Suarez to tap home his 30th of the season.
Sterling and Liverpool have played football like its meant to be played. Like the beautiful game deserves to be played. His link-up play with Suarez and Coutinho only raises hope that the trio of Rooney-Sturridge-Sterling can do more of the same with England this summer in Brazil. Under the management of Brendan Rodgers, Sterling has graduated from a raw gem into a bright diamond. Under Rodgers, the merseyside club believe in a style where fluidity, pace and enterprise are key elements.
With the England squad, too, there is a gradual shift away from the old rigidities to the free-flowing football Rodgers has conjured up with Liverpool. And there is an unbelievable pleasure in seeing an English player rise above the shortcomings of the system.
The three-horse title race that was sold as a race to the finish, by pundits and television studios alike, is threatening to fizzle into a procession of sorts, orchestrated mainly by the best thing to come out of England for a while.
Stats via squawka