Saturday was a day of firsts for Liverpool FC. The 1-0 victory over Reading marked Brendan Rodgers’ first league win at Anfield since he joined the club, but perhaps even more defining was Raheem Sterling’s first senior goal for the club.
Sterling has been something of a revelation this season, a chink of light in what has otherwise been a difficult start to Brendan Rodgers’ Anfield career. But in and amongst all the hype surrounding his performances, there are those questioning whether the 17-year-old is a flash in the pan, or is in fact the real deal.
Having watched Sterling’s Premier League performances closely this season, I agree with the latter. And first and foremost the Liverpool manager deserves tremendous praise for throwing him at such a young age. There are those who could argue it was born out of necessity considering Liverpool’s paper thin squad, although many managers would have gone for the easier option of selecting £20 million man Stewart Downing.
The fact Sterling already has a goal and two assists more than Downing managed throughout the entirety of last season, suggests Rodgers’ gamble has paid off. But there is plenty more to Sterling’s game which has been hugely impressive, and suggests the youngster can fulfil his captain’s prediction and go ‘all the way to the top’.
Steven Gerrard was quick to come out after the game on Saturday and suggest Anfield’s latest young star has all the attributes to be a top player for the club, something he should know all about having made his own Liverpool debut as a fresh faced 18-year-old back in 1998.
“He hasn’t let anyone down and he’s been sensational so far,” Gerrard said.
“First and foremost he has the trust of the manager. He is the one who picks the team and week in, week out he is getting a start.
‘That is what you need when you break through, you need the manager to believe in you because sometimes it is hard to play well every game. If he can add assists and goals to his game the more he grows he can go all the way to the top.”
His finish on Saturday suggests Sterling will indeed add more goals to his game. The clinical nature of which he dispatched his chance was a welcome sight for Liverpool fans, who have seen a ridiculous number of chances wasted at Anfield in the past year.
Having seen Sterling’s goals for the youth team, and his pre-season strike against Bayern Leverkusen, a common feature is his ability to find the inside netting of the bottom corner, just as he did on Saturday, displaying unnerving accuracy. His finishing ability is not to be underestimated.
But what has impressed most about Sterling so far is his work rate and bravery, especially for somebody so young. Nothing is a lost cause for the young winger. He is willing to take on players time and again, even if he is dispossessed, there have been plenty of occasions this season he has won the ball back in a matter of seconds. This may be born out of the fearlessness that youngsters often bring to teams, but Sterling has put himself about time and again.
The recent goalless draw against Stoke City was a defining performance. Although the youngster failed to provide a goal or assist in the game, the fact he remained a constant threat throughout despite being brutally fouled on several occasions was testament to his character and desire.
Rodgers is a huge believer in hard work and the fact Sterling has started seven of Liverpool’s eight league games this season suggests he has the work rate Rodgers is looking for. The Liverpool manager has also often spoke of his impressive positional play and his understanding of the tactical part of the game. It appears Sterling’s footballing brain is far more mature than his age suggests. The timing of his run for his goal and the position he picked up was testament to that, with Rodgers admitting afterwards it was a move straight from the training ground.
Of course there is a long way to go for the youngster, but Liverpool fans are rightly very excited about their number 31. Some have suggested Sterling will soon be ‘found out’ by opposition defences, another statement I disagree with.
Another exciting thing about him is the unpredictability he brings to his position. He is not simply a speed merchant and has a vast array of tricks and skills he has not been afraid to try so far. His assist for Suarez’s equalizing goal in the draw at Sunderland in September saw him throw in several step overs to beat his man before delivering the cross.
There are those who say not to put too much pressure on him too early, although I am of the opinion if you are good enough you are old enough. Another England call up is rumoured and you have to say based on performances in his position it’s currently deserved.
It’s early days of course, but as Sterling made his way into the top ten youngest Premier League goalscorers chart, I am willing to bet he is more likely to emulate the likes of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, rather than Danny Cadimatari and Mikael Forsell, who also find themselves in the top ten.
Liverpool and England fans will certainly hope I’m right.
What have you made of Raheem Sterling this season? Real deal or flash in the pan? Follow me on Twitter @LukeGreenwood89 and let me know your thoughts.