A Sterling Effort | Raheem Sterling Compared to Rivals


Raheem Sterling couldn’t have it easier. In the past, young players breaking into the Liverpool first team have had huge pressure placed on their shoulders almost immediately. Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and especially Michael Owen quickly became fans’ favourites expected to perform to a high level consistently, but through a combination of good management, circumstance and the odd misconception, Sterling is being allowed to develop away from the intense glare of the spotlight at his own, deceptively rapid pace.

Sterling Effort

Good management, because having made an excellent start to his Liverpool career, Brendan Rodgers and his team decided to take Sterling out of the mix, giving his body and mind time to recuperate while also shifting him to the back of supporters’ awareness. Circumstance, because Sterling has senior players like Gerrard, Coutinho and, for now, Suarez ahead of him in the pecking order of star players, while Jordon Ibe steals some of the hype from beneath him.

And then there are the misconceptions. And oh, how football fans love to repeat lazy tropes with no founding in reality. “He isn’t actually very quick” said pint-caressing middle-aged men who haven’t broken into a jog for years.

Jordon Ibe begs to differ. When asked who he thought was Liverpool’s most rapid player as part of a Twitter Q&A just a few days ago, Ibe went for Sterling. Given that could have gone for Daniel Sturridge, Jose Enrique, Glen Johnson, Philipe Coutinho or, indeed, himself (although he may have declined to do so out of humility) and plays with these guys on a daily basis, we can probably put that particular myth to bed.

One that isn’t so easily dismissed is the commonly held belief that Sterling suffered a severe dip in form in the second half of last season. In fact, Sterling only played 273 minutes of the final 19 games, so it seems a little harsh to talk down his form when he took part in under 16% of the possible playing time, especially as he was mainly used as a sub and, as we now know, was carrying an injury. Up until the halfway point his form had remained fairly consistent, his two assists in open play coming in the 12th and 16th games of the season. Sterling also created four Clear Cut Chances in the second ten games of the season, compared to only one in the first ten.

Sterling’s passing accuracy also remained high, but where his form did dip was was his ability to retain possession. In the first ten games he played, Sterling lost possession just 14.3 times per game, but in his next ten outings (in which he played every minute) he lost possession 20.7 times per game on average. It’s not clear exactly when Sterling picked up his injury, but this sudden dip suggests mid-November is a good guess.

As we saw with Joe Allen, a niggling injury can eat away at a player’s form, and when a manager only has a small squad to choose from, sometimes it’s hard to give players a break when they need it. After the arrivals of Coutinho, Sturridge and the returning Lucas in January, Rodgers was finally able to give injured players a rest – something he should be in a position to do from the off this season.

Another popular dig at Sterling, at least in his early days, was that he had a poor attitude. Perhaps Rodgers did him no favours when mistakenly chastising him for answering back in front of the Being: Liverpool cameras, but in a country where the media narrative demonises working class people as ‘Chavs’, it’s easy to have preconceptions about young players from underprivileged backgrounds – preconceptions ‘justified’ by any scrap of information that appears to support them.

Take Sterling at face value, though, and he comes across as a professional, humble young man keen to make the most of an opportunity he knows he’s lucky to have. Asked if he sees himself as a fully established member of the first team while on tour in Indonesia, Sterling replied that he considers himself as just “another young player working to make his mark on the season.” This might seem like an irrelevant, generic answer, but given that we’ve seen young stars of the past fail to make the most of their careers or let their talent go the their heads, it’s vital that our emerging talents don’t think they’ve made it before they have.

Many fans will feel that there isn’t the same hype around Sterling that there was over Fowler and Owen because he simply isn’t as good a player as they were. Owen and Fowler were undeniably outstanding talents right from the off, but it’s far harder to judge the potential of a player like Sterling than it is a striker. After all, anybody can count goals, but some of what Sterling offers is subtle, and routinely undervalued by fans.

Jordon Ibe is undoubtedly another excellent prospect, but while we’ve seen evidence of his attacking credentials already, it’s Sterling’s work rate and defensive attributes that mark him out as the more developed player. If Sterling’s pace wasn’t obvious to some, no doubt his tendency to drop deep between the lines to pick up possession, and his proficiency at winning and keeping it from bigger opponents have also gone unnoticed. As Rodgers said himself, “Raheem Sterling, as an example, looks slight, but at times he will outmuscle Martin Skrtel, or Daniel Agger [in training].”

Offensively, Sterling is a skillful, spritely player destined to punish teams on the break, but defensively he’s a nuisance, nipping at opponent’s’ feet and firmly rooted to the ground when they do the same to him, his rear stuck out to shield them from the ball. In combination, this makes for a well-rounded, intelligent and tactically adept young player who will only get better.

Raheem Sterling Statistical Comparison

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In order to cement his place as a genuine first team competitor he will need to score and assist more goals, and continue to improve tactically, but just as few expected him to feature as heavily as he did last season, Sterling’s level of involvement may come as a surprise to fans once again. Rodgers clearly had a lot of faith in him last season and stated recently that he’s already developed significantly on the player he was this time last year.

So perhaps it’s a little odd that there isn’t more hype over Sterling now, considering the buzz around him when he scored five goals in a game as a 16-year-old and the fact that he’s already been capped for England. McManaman, Fowler and Owen broke through prior to the era of billionaire owners and teams packed-full of top-class internationals, when a youngster with the potential to be ‘World Class’ instantly stood out even among the seniors. In the age of the internet, YouTube and six-figure fees for teenagers, however, young talents are scrutinised and celebrated long before making first-team debuts, and then have to compete with players like Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge even at ‘mid-table’ clubs.

For every McManaman, Owen or Fowler there is a long list of Richie Partridges, Paul Andersons, Kristian Nemeths and Danny Pachecos, but Sterling has already proved he fits the former group better than the latter. He has a long way to go, as he himself knows, and it’s imperative that Liverpool continue to manage his progress sensibly, but don’t be surprised if Raheem Sterling is the next young Liverpool player to announce his presence on the world stage this time next year in Brazil.

First, though, Sterling will have to prove his worth in a more competitive Liverpool squad over the coming season. While Liverpool fans panic about a lack of first-team-ready reinforcements brought in by the club so far, Sterling will be hungry to show us that we already have more than we know.


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