Raheem Sterling: Areas Where the Liverpool Winger Can Still Improve
At just 17 years of age, the wide forward is a potential star in the making, but he has also shown more than enough ability to justify his selection in the Liverpool first team at the present time.
With his ability to pace the ball, his ability to dribble, and his ability to play on either flank, Sterling certainly has plenty of skills mastered after only two years with the club, having joined from Queens Park Rangers in 2010 whilst Rafa Benitez was still manager.
Sterling made his first team debut under Kenny Dalglish at the end of the 2011-12 season, but he shot to prominence under the management of Brendan Rodgers, totaling 14 Liverpool appearances and being called to both the England Under-21 and national team sides.
He's far from the finished article though; Sterling has the potential to reach the very top.
Here are five things he can still improve on.
Composure in Finishing
Renowned as a goalscoring wide man in the Liverpool under-18s and, briefly, under-21s, Raheem Sterling has yet to score his first professional goal for the first team.
Partly of course this will be down to an increased amount of responsibility in other areas of the game; as one of the top talents in the youth teams he could perhaps be forgiven for not doing as much of the build-up work, or for not passing at the end of his dribbles.
Now as a senior player he has more work to do in a tactical sense off the ball, must be thinking about more aspects of the game and perhaps therefore has not gotten himself into the best positions to score.
Other reasons for him not scoring yet are pretty simple: he's playing against some of the best defenders in the league, and he might well still show a few nerves when he does get the ball in front of goal.
Sterling is definitely capable of hitting double figures for the season though. Once he gets his first couple, expect more to follow as he gains confidence.
Learning How to Beat Opponents Without Pace
In amongst Sterling's top attributes are pace and the ability to dribble.
Putting the two together he has been able to outsmart and outmanoeuvre this season a variety of opponents, from the strong and physical such as Stoke's Marc Wilson to the experienced and good in the tackle, such as Kolo Toure.
The merely out of position, like Sunderland's Danny Rose, have been routinely embarrassed at times by the tricky forward.
Where Sterling has a few times come up against a brick wall is when faced with an opponent with equal pace and acceleration to himself.
Arsenal's Carl Jenkinson arguably delivered the best defensive display against Raheem Sterling so far this season, nullifying the winger's attempts to get down the touchline by matching him stride for stride.
As Sterling gains more experience and plays against more types of full-backs, he will adapt and learn new ways to have an impact on the game when his raw pace isn't enough to isolate and beat his marker.
Movement off the Ball in Attack
An area where Sterling is actually pretty good, but could certainly improve further, is his movement off the ball, particularly in the final third when Liverpool have possession.
Being used as a wide forward he naturally picks positions just inside the touchline to wait and receive the ball, but he is also adept at making darting runs behind the full-back when he thinks the quick through-ball might be played to him.
Where Sterling can get a lot of joy though is in making diagonal runs towards the centre of the goal when the Reds are attacking on the opposite flank to the one he is playing on, and also when the play is more central but the the lone forward—usually Luis Suarez—drops off to get involved in the build-up play.
Sterling's pace and instant control, which is superb, will ensure he gets a fair few chances to run in on goal from these areas, which should in turn aid his chances to improve that first area of finishing, by having more higher quality chances.
Tactical Appreciation of Space Behind Him
An area that Sterling will naturally improve with more game time, his tactical performances have already been hailed as improving by his manager Brendan Rodgers.
As a wide forward, the natural inclination is to remain involved in areas which might benefit the team in an attacking sense when they win back the ball, but covering the space behind and defending from the front is a vital part of any attacker's game.
Sterling is far stronger than he looks and does not shirk a challenge, but importantly he has also shown desire and recognition that he needs to track back at times and hold his position sensibly at others.
Sure, he'll make a few errors of judgement at this stage in his career, but the more game time he gets early on, the better he should be for it in the longer term.
Knowing When to Have the Confidence to Just Run and Beat Men
Arguably the most threatening ability that Sterling has at this point is his great control allied to an ability to run at pace at the defence.
We've seen, down the years, plenty of young wingers or attackers who are adept at taking on opponents and either crossing, passing or shooting at the end of it—but who, within a few years, are taking the safer route of checking back, passing easily and not taking on any risk themselves.
Liverpool perhaps have two such players in their ranks at the moment, who have become known for an ability to beat a man yet have not actually done that consistently in their time at the club.
Sterling needs to never lose that fearlessness—but also develop a sense of when is the best time—to run at defenders, committing them to making tackles which could see him scamper away through on goal or win a free kick for his side.
Running blindly down dead-ends where two or three defenders box him in isn't something we've seen often from Sterling yet—he's more often than not capable of taking out of play three players in quick succession and fashioning a presentable chance to create an effort on goal for a team mate.
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