In the end, Philippe Coutinho received the plaudits for Liverpool's vital 3-2 victory over Manchester City on Sunday, shifting the balance of the title race unmistakably toward Brendan Rodgers' Reds, but it was Raheem Sterling who stole the show in the first half.
The Queens Park Rangers academy product scored the opening goal after being slotted beyond the defensive line by Luis Suarez, and showed remarkable calmness to stutter, create a shooting angle and fire home with ease.
For him it was a landmark goal, not just because of the significance of the tie, but because of the position he was playing and the manner in which he scored.
Sterling has all the attributes of a "proper" winger: combining searing pace, short-area quickness, dribbling ability and a strong, dangerous cross to boot. But over the course of the last five weeks he's displayed he has more in his locker than a traditional No. 7 would, moving inside and heading the tip of a midfield diamond in a new, effective Liverpool system.
He moves the ball quickly into space and finds room to receive; playing with Suarez and Daniel Sturridge—two lightning-quick forwards who dovetail as well as anyone in world football—has helped his game immeasurably in this area.
Suarez and Sturridge earned the moniker "SAS" this season due to their partnership of 68 goals and assists combined, but Sterling will soon force a rethink toward "SSS" given his vital displays of late.
As Sturridge has dropped off and Suarez's influence has waned, it's arguable Sterling has become the central figure and influence to the Reds' incredible 10-game win streak—a run that has put them within touching distance of the Premier League title.
He was dropped around Christmas last year and spent close to a year out of the lineup. His return to the first team (in full) against Hull City this December was poor, but he bounced back by excelling against Norwich City at home and cementing himself as an option.
Now look at him: a key player in a title charge, two England caps under his belt and emerging as an excellent option less than 60 days prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Five weeks ago his name emerged as an option for Roy Hodgson's squad of 23 for Brazil. Now, he's a surefire traveler and could well start on the right aside Wayne Rooney and Sturridge.
His grooming as a No. 10 at the tip of a diamond and familiarity with Steven Gerrard, Sturridge and Glen Johnson gives him an additional edge and brings him level with Adam Lallana; the fact he could well be a Premier League winner by the end of May pushes him into the bracket above.
He was already a strong option to replace Theo Walcott's natural width on the right-hand side of England's 4-3-3, but now he's honed his inside game whilst retaining an outside threat, and he becomes a favourite to line up against Italy from the beginning.
Another four scintillating showings will cement Sterling's place in Hodgson's XI, as he's already shown willingness to craft a formula based loosely on Liverpool's success.
It could be a summer to remember for Raheem Sterling on both domestic and international levels.
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