Raheem Sterling has been used in a variety of attacking roles throughout Brendan Rodgers’ managerial reign at Liverpool.
The manager recently stated that Sterling was Liverpool’s version of Alexis Sanchez. Despite the fact that Rodgers did actively try to sign the the former Barcelona man in the summer, there is no doubt that Sterling can make a similar impact in matches just like the free-scoring Chilean. The problem however, is consistency. Sanchez rarely produces a bad performance in an Arsenal shirt. In fact, his rather tame showing against Liverpool was probably the worst he’s played all season. Other than the recent trip to Anfield, Sanchez has produced time and time again for Arsenal in his debut season at the Emirates.
Sterling on the other hand, has been struggling to produce at a consistent level. He played brilliantly when he was the most advanced player on the pitch against Bournemouth in Liverpool’s 1-3 League Cup victory. The 20-year-old scored twice that evening, his movement and finishing proving that the youngster is a class act when he hits top form. It hasn’t quite worked for him in the Premier League, however. Against Manchester United he wasted a number of good goalscoring opportunities before his rather quiet performance against Arsenal. In both of these games, he was deployed as Liverpool’s most advanced forward. Clearly, the lack of game time and experience up front means he simply cannot hurt top-flight defences.
The reason why Sterling is playing so far forward is due to Liverpool’s recent striker struggles. A lack of goals from the likes of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and the absence of key man Daniel Sturridge has forced Brendan Rodgers to re-evaluate his attacking options. Understandably, encouraging the raw talent of Raheem Sterling to prosper in a striker’s role is clearly an experiment worth conducting.
His movement on the whole is excellent, he tries to make things happen by giving the midfield an option. Although his work rate is unquestionable, he lacks a real striker’s instinct, the ability to poach in the box by reacting quickest and getting himself into positions where he will pick up goals. Some may argue that he showed this against Bournemouth. The only issue here is that Sterling was allowed to score with his head, completely unchallenged, in the six yard box. Sterling may get these goals against Championship opposition but he won’t be so lucky in the Premier League.
This may sound like an attack on Raheem Sterling’s attacking ability but it isn’t. The point is that Sterling is not and never will be an out-and-out striker. He thrives in the attacking midfield pocket that links the entire attacking force of the Liverpool team. Last season, he played behind Sturridge and Suarez in what was a very attacking formation. He was brilliant. The movement of Suarez and Sturridge created space and gave Sterling a host of options when he picked up the ball.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t experienced this at Liverpool this season due to the lack of movement up front. Now, when Raheem Sterling picks up the ball, there is the feeling that the wonderkid is expected to do it all on his own and work is magic to turn Liverpool’s season around. Although he has undoubted talent, this is not a particularly fair expectation for a player who has only really excelled at the top for one full season.
He started out as a wide man before being implemented in more of a central position and it really paid off last season. Rodgers needs to build a team around Sterling if he wants to keep hold of England’s great hope. Although Rodgers’ effort to play him up front was a good idea, it hasn’t worked for Liverpool and the quicker Sturridge returns, the more Liverpool fans will see Raheem Sterling thrive in more of a roving role.
The likes of Bale, Ronaldo and Messi are not strikers but they can work very well in the attacking space between the opposition’s midfield and backline. Raheem Sterling can offer a similar effect at Liverpool if he is allowed to mature and settle in one particular position. Although this may not happen in the immediate future, the potential is there for Sterling to really thrive in a ‘free’ central role for many years to come.