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Raheem Sterling's England U-21 Performance Proves He's Not Ready for the Top

MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14:  Raheem Sterling of England before the 2015 UEFA European Under 21 Championships Qualifier Group 1 match between England and Finland at StadiumMK on November 14, 2013 in Milton Keynes, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Max MuntonContributor IIJanuary 7, 2017

On Thursday night, to put it bluntly, Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling was outplayed by some of his fellow England U-21 internationals.

In the European Championship qualifier in Milton Keynes against Finland, Manchester United’s Michael Keane headed Gareth Southgate's side in front, before West Brom’s Saido Berahino stole the headlines.

That’s not to say Sterling had a bad game, either. He just looked more part of the furniture than a player vying for a first-team place at a Champions League-chasing club.

He looked very much like a player short of quality match practice.

In the first half against Finland, Sterling often looked dangerous, contributing to a flurry of England attacks with Ravel Morrison that had the visitors on the back foot.

Both Sterling and Morrison’s touches were clever, with quick interchanging and cunning tricks.

Raheem Sterling in action for England Under-21s against Finland in Milton Keynes on Thursday night.
Raheem Sterling in action for England Under-21s against Finland in Milton Keynes on Thursday night.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

On 15 minutes, Sterling’s pace got the better of Finland’s defence, and he found himself breaking free down the left. However, his final cross in from the move was very poor. 

Sterling then won England a free-kick halfway through the first half, which James Ward-Prowse delivered into the box for Keane to head home.

Shortly after the half-hour mark, Berahino began to show his qualities. He made a great run down the left, pulling the ball back to Sterling, only for the Liverpool man to mishit his shot. Fortunately, the ball ended up at the feet of Wilfried Zaha, who won a free-kick.

As the second half began, with England two up, Sterling looked increasingly frustrated. It was as if he wanted to steal the show, but struggled to find his way in doing so. 

He would often be found holding the ball up for long periods of time on the halfway line, instead of continuing a flurry of England counter-attacks.

With thoughts in Sterling’s head not quite fitting with Southgate’s game plan, the Jamaican-born winger’s aggravations were put to an end on 64 minutes, when he was replaced by Blackpool’s Thomas Ince.

Only last week, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers hinted to The Times that Sterling’s head might not be in the right place.

In quotes picked up by ESPN, he said: "For Raheem, football has to be very much at the forefront of his mind. If it is, he is a talent."

Raheem Sterling in action for Liverpool against Crystal Palace in his only Premier League start this season.
Raheem Sterling in action for Liverpool against Crystal Palace in his only Premier League start this season.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

When Sterling earned himself a run in the Liverpool first team at just 17 last season, he looked fast, exciting and refreshing.

He managed an impressive 24 appearances for the Reds’ first team that year, but those appearances dramatically tailed off when Rodgers brought in Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in the January transfer window. 

The timing of his demotion back to reality also came shortly after the club rewarded him with a new contract of £35,000 a week, according to Chris Bascombe in the Telegraph.

Quite humbling then that the star of last night’s England U-21 game, Berahino, earns just £850 a week.

That's less than some Premier League kit men, according to the BBC.

The new contract and his run in the team also put an end to threats from the youngster’s mother that she would move the Sterlings back to London, according to Darren Lewis in the Mirror.

However, with increased competition for places in Rodgers’ squad this season, Sterling has made just one Premier League start.

When he became a 17-year-old first-team regular, was it too much, too young? Was he rushed in too early amid his hype? Or was he simply Liverpool’s only choice with much thinner attacking options?

Whilst Sterling’s display for the England U-21s on Thursday night was by no means poor, it was a performance belonging to a player who’s not getting much first-team action.

Sterling’s second-half replacement, Ince, looked sharp. He has made 11 appearances in the Championship this season, scoring six times and recording two assists, according to Who Scored.

Last week, Sterling was linked with a loan move to Swansea City for the remainder of the season, according to Dean Jones in the Mirror. On this season’s evidence, and last night’s evidence, a run of first-team football sounds like a very good idea indeed. 

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