Raheem Sterling was named man of the match in Liverpool's demolition of Arsenal at Anfield on Saturday after the teenager put in a stunning performance as Brendan Rodgers' side blew their opponents away in the opening 20 minutes.
4-0 after 20 minutes was an incredible scoreline—Liverpool's quickest Premier League lead ever, according to Infostrada Sports—but in all honesty, even if it had been five or six, it wouldn't have flattered the home side.
Sterling had already taken his first, Martin Skrtel had claimed two and Daniel Sturridge had one himself. Meanwhile, Luis Suarez had rifled a volley on the half-turn from 25 yards against the post, and Sturridge had chipped his shot wide after a beautiful one-touch combination between Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
There were many candidates for man-of-the-match, but the 19-year-old Sterling took the accolade.
The winger was sensational from start to finish and was unfortunate not to claim his first career hat-trick, twice coming close in the second half.
The performance was reward for his revitalised form since being brought back into the side in early December, growing with every game since. This was his coming of age.
In an interview with The Telegraph this week, Sterling explained how he learnt from his spell on the sidelines earlier this season:
“I had to be more confident. I wasn’t confident enough to have a shot myself and instead I’d pass it to someone like [Luis] Suarez. I just said to myself that I had to step up and start running at defenders again; taking responsibility.
“I’ve also had the chance to do that week in, week out. I can feel a bit of momentum now."
That momentum certainly was on show against Arsenal, constantly running at the Gunners defence, committing Bacary Sagna and drifting across the front line to great effect.
In recent games, Sterling has been used on the right side of the Liverpool attack, with Sturridge and Suarez interchanging from the central and left, but against Arsenal, Sterling was mostly working from the left.
Not only was he excellent in attack, his work-rate was phenomenal defensively too, providing great cover for Aly Cissokho.
The Englishman's performance earned an incredible 9.5 on WhoScored's rating system, despite his pass accuracy being just 65 percent—showing that completed passes aren't the be all and end all of a player's output.
Laughing at how good Sterling's been this season. Absolutely ridiculous. 19 years of age. Mental.— Viktor Fagerström (@ViktorFagerLFC) February 8, 2014
In early December, I wrote about Sterling's form and where he needs to improve his game, discussing the need for his decision making and end product, predicting that "with more and more playing time he'll only get better at providing the end product his game needs to find."
After starting Liverpool's last 13 Premier League games, Sterling has not only made improvements to his game and cemented his place in Rodgers' starting XI, he should also be booking his place in Roy Hodgson's England squad for the World Cup.
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