Liverpool: How Reds Can Get the Very Best out of Raheem Sterling
Rightly so, given his major improvements during and since preseason and the impact he has made on Brendan Rodgers’ first team—and he impressed yet again in the Reds’ 5-2 away win against Norwich City on Saturday.
His shock call-up to Roy Hodgson’s England squad against Ukraine a few weeks ago was just the icing on the cake for young Sterling.
But rather than rest on their laurels, Liverpool should be looking to keep Sterling motivated and continue to push him toward fulfilling his undoubted potential.
Let’s consider four ways Liverpool can get the very best out of Raheem Sterling—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.
Keep Him out on the Left
Since making a huge impact in a preseason friendly against Bayer Leverkusen, Sterling has made that act of cutting in from the left wing on his right foot his signature move.
And it’s been used very effectively so far.
Sterling’s ability to use both feet makes him a joy to watch out on the left wing, whether it be cutting in to lay off a chance for a teammate or going outside of the defender to put a cross in.
In the continued absence of Jose Enrique, he has struck up a good understanding with makeshift left-back Glen Johnson, dovetailing to great effect and giving opponents two quick and unpredictable attacking options from the left side.
Given Sterling’s natural tendency to drift in, and given his history of playing as a left forward even for the reserve and youth teams, Rodgers should keep him out on the left wing for Liverpool.
Switch Flanks Only When Needed
That’s not to say, of course, that Sterling shouldn’t be used on the right.
Far from it.
His ability to drift past a defender on the right flank showed its importance in the goal he set up for Luis Suarez against Sunderland a few weeks ago, and just this Saturday his excellent turn and pass led to Steven Gerrard’s goal against Norwich.
But with Rodgers preferring a 4-3-3 spearheaded by Luis Suarez and flanked by two inverted wingers, Sterling is tailor-made for the left-forward role and should be kept there except on rare occasions when switching flanks might change up and spice up the attack a bit.
If Sterling starts on the bench, though, his pace and dribbling would make him an excellent substitute option on either flank, especially against tired defences.
Give Him a Goal-Scoring Responsibility
Two months ago, he scored the opener for the first team in the preseason friendly against Leverkusen from his trademark angle following a signature cut-in.
Sterling has the ability to score goals on a regular basis for the first team, and Rodgers should exploit that by giving him a responsibility to do just that.
It might not entail setting an outright goals target for him for the season, especially at such a young age, but Rodgers should encourage him to shoot more often cutting in from the wing.
Sterling has the assists in his game already. If he adds goals, he’ll be an even more fearsome prospect for defenders—and he’ll gain even more confidence to cement himself as one of England’s finest young wingers.
Treat Him as a First-Team Regular
Most importantly, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers must continue to treat him as a first-team regular.
Not just a first-team regular as in only picking him in the starting XI more often than not, and using him as their first option off the bench in case he doesn’t start.
But in the sense that he should be given the confidence to start and influence big games (indeed he has done so already), and be rested alongside some of the senior stars (like Gerrard and Suarez) in those games that look easier on paper.
Having just come into the game, Sterling has the raw ability and passion to succeed. If he adds that confidence and swagger that comes with being a first-team star for one of England’s most famous clubs, then he might just relish the added responsibility and deliver more consistently.
Sterling is well on his way to becoming Liverpool’s finest Youth Academy graduate in over a decade. In order to further that progression, he must be given more responsibility and pressure to excel.
Only then will he show that he will end up as a youngster who has fulfilled his potential rather than just another name among a bunch of failed hopefuls.
What do you think? Is Sterling just getting started and should he be eased in, or should Rodgers take this opportunity and turn him into one of the season’s success stories? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Also check out: 5 Things to Take Away from Liverpool’s Win at Norwich