Blog by: Anirudh
During Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge of Liverpool, there was a lot of emphasis in playing young, untried players in both Europa League and Premier League matches, especially in the first half of the campaign.
Raheem Sterling, along with Suso and Andre Wisdom, played a big part in keeping the Reds above water before reinforcements arrived in January, after which all three faced a reduced role as they adapted to the physical and mental demands of being senior players at Anfield.
The new season has seen Sterling appear from the bench in the Premier League, only making a start in the League Cup second round fixture against Notts County so far, but the speedy 18-year-old still has a large part to play in the Reds’ year ahead and can still have a big say on how well the Reds fare.
Competition for places
Liverpool have added real depth to their wide attacking options, with Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas capable of playing on either flank even while it isn’t their preferred positions. They are added to the likes of Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Victor Moses, while Luis Suarez will also likely feature in wide attacking positions this season.
So, Sterling, like fellow youngster Jordon Ibe, has his work cut out for game time at Liverpool this term, but he needn’t worry about not starting the first three league games of the season.
True, Liverpool don’t have as many games to play this term as usual since they have no continental competition, but the No. 31 will still be a regular player on the pitch during the course of the entire season, whether by off the bench or as a starter.
Sterling’s attributes and why he’ll prosper
Sterling has one attribute which outstrips that of any team-mate: his pace. From a standing start or already on the move, the young winger will beat any defender for pace and especially in games where the opposition play a high defensive line, it’s almost guaranteed he’ll feature at some point.
He is also growing in confidence once more as he gets involved with the first team after several months out of the picture last term, which manifests itself in the player attempting to beat opponents with his dribbling skills.
If he can add further impressive shots to his goal against Notts County and late effort on goal against Manchester United, he will more frequently be a player Rodgers turns too off the bench when matches are tight and Liverpool need a goal.
His versatility is also another asset, as he can play from either flank or, in a pinch, further upfield as a pacy centre-forward, meaning he is an option in plenty of Rodgers’ preferred tactical systems.
Rodgers the ideal man to nurture him
The current Reds manager is certainly capable of bringing out the best of Sterling, and he knows exactly how important it will be to rest the youngster from time to time.
Whereas last term he played 30 games in very short time, this season Sterling should still reach around that total this year—but spread out over the entire campaign, resulting in a more fulsome contribution to Liverpool’s overall season.
Whether Sterling starts 10 or 20 league games, and perhaps almost doubles that total off the bench, or whether his games come almost entirely as sub this season, he’s certainly got all the tools to become a match-winner for the Reds.
Rodgers aims to be at Liverpool for the long haul, not just to get the best out of players for a couple of years before moving on, leaving behind a squad mentally and physically burnt out.
Sterling can be one of the biggest beneficiaries of that approach from the boss, and he will prove his worth as the season goes on.