Owing to Daniel Sturridge's injury, the recently turned 19-year-old has started the last three Premier League games for Liverpool.
The performance in the defeat to Hull City was disappointing, but perhaps it was harsh to be overly critical of a teenager when there were plenty of players who didn't play well that day.
In the two home games since, against Norwich City and West Ham, we've seen enough of Sterling to assess how he's progressing. Yes, there are clear areas for improvement, but there are also a lot of positives in his game.
Left, Right or Centre
In the games against Norwich and West Ham, Sterling started on the left and Jordan Henderson on the right. However, both games saw the two switch sides and, on each occasion, they both looked better after doing so.
The West Ham game in particular saw Sterling playing closer to Luis Suarez centrally, perhaps confident in the knowledge that, in doing so, it affords Glen Johnson space to exploit out wide.
You may recall Sterling's first goal for Liverpool, against Reading last season—a match which saw him play much more centrally than before, almost as a second forward alongside Suarez.
Sterling, on two occasions in the first half against West Ham, used his pace and strength, coming in from the right side to hold off the defender.
His goal against Norwich came from a central area, finishing from near the penalty spot from Suarez's pass.
It would seem, in Sturridge's absence, Sterling is going to become a vital part in the Liverpool side, occupying the centre-backs when Suarez drops deeper or into wide areas to drag players out of position. Sterling, effectively, becomes Sturridge.
When I last wrote about Sterling, I identified his end product as an area that needs improvement—too often he wastes an opportunity through a poor decision.
We saw evidence of this against Norwich, in a four-on-one situation; with Suarez inside and Gerrard on the overlap, Sterling instead looked to get a goal himself and ended up wasting the chance after cutting back into the defender.
Perhaps this should be noted as enthusiasm to get a goal himself when the game was seemingly already won. That's natural.
What is pleasing, though, is when a similar instance occurred against West Ham. Sterling, having superbly brought the ball down after chipping over the defender on the half-way line, opted to head the ball into the space for Suarez—which his teammate fired over.
See below for comparisons of the two situations.
There was a ten-minute spell either side of the first goal where Sterling was heavily involved, coming more centrally to support Suarez. In the image below, he superbly uses his pace to get across the two centre-backs and get on the end of Coutinho's excellent through ball.
The finish, though, slightly eluded him and thus perfectly shows how, with a young player, you must be patient—he did superbly well to get the chance and, with time, will begin to finish those.
We also saw another excellent example of Sterling's crossing, shown below, where he picks the ball up on the left side and provides an excellent opportunity for Coutinho and Suarez, floating the cross into the perfect area between the last defender and goalkeeper.
Sterling is clearly a gifted player and looks set to play a large part during Sturridge's absence over the busy, festive fixture period.
I know I'm biased but I think Raheem Sterling has massive talent and can be an excellent player for Liverpool. Amazed at the criticism— Monkey Sponge (@monkey_sponge) December 7, 2013
He isn't the end product yet—and not many 19-year-olds are—but he certainly has the technical attributes required, and with more and more playing time he'll only get better at providing the end product his game needs to find.
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