Raheem Sterling burst onto the English football scene at the beginning of the 2012/2013 season, after being given his chance by the incoming manager Brendan Rodgers. His raw pace and trickery provoked instant adulation from the Anfield faithful and, as with all young talent in this country, he was soon being touted as a future England international.
Sterling was just seventeen when he made his league debut for Liverpool against Manchester City in a two-all draw, but was used more sparingly as the season progressed. Liverpool finished seventh that year, while arch rivals Manchester United claimed the much coveted Premier League title.
At times during the 2012/13 season, many queried why Sterling wasn’t used more frequently – he played just 43 minutes in Liverpool’s last fifteen games. The season after however, that question was answered emphatically. Rodgers had been successfully protecting his young protégé and although he wasn’t a regular at the start of 2013/14 campaign, it soon became impossible for Rodgers to leave him out. Liverpool had the title within their reach in May this year, thanks mainly to inspirational performances from Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge, but unfortunately for them, they fell agonisingly short.
In summer this year, Sterling was deservedly named in Roy Hodgson’s England squad, and was one of the (very) few players to emerge from Rio with his reputation intact. He almost scored the opener against Italy, and his incisive through ball to Wayne Rooney allowed the Manchester United man to set up Daniel Sturridge for an important equaliser. Sterling also started the second group match against Uruguay, but faded as the match progressed before his former Liverpool teammate Suarez netted a brace to break English hearts and grab the headlines (again).
Despite his tender years, Sterling has already become a key player for both Liverpool and England. Beginning primarily as a wide player, he has since been utilised in the ‘number ten’ position, allowing his creativity to flourish in one of the most important attacking areas.
If Sterling continues to develop and improve, then the chances are his name will be in the hat for the PFA Young Player of the Year award at the end of the season; so how does he compare with last year’s winner of that prize, Eden Hazard?
It’s easy to forget that Hazard himself is just twenty-three years old. He has after all been voted into the PFA Team of the Year for the past two seasons. His performances last year weren’t enough to help Chelsea overhaul Manchester City at the summit of the table, but he is still a vital cog in the Chelsea wheel. Arguably, his stand-out performance of the season came at the Etihad stadium as Mourinho’s Chelsea out-fought, and out-thought, the eventual league champions.
Despite his country’s progression from the group stages in Brazil, Hazard disappointed at the World Cup. Many predicted Belgium as the dark horses and expected big things from their English-based contingent. The disappointment with his performance level only highlights the high standards that Hazard set over the 2013/14 season.
So how do those high standards compare to those of Raheem Sterling?
Hazard made 35 appearances for Chelsea last year in all competitions, with Sterling just behind on 33. In that time, Hazard scored 14 goals compared to Sterling’s 9. If we were to break this down however, despite only playing twice more, Hazard was on the pitch for an extra 10 hours; Sterling is no stranger to being substituted. Using averages then for fairness, the Belgian scored roughly one goal every 206 minutes, whereby the Liverpool youngster scored one goal every 246 minutes. When Sterling did manage to find the net in the league, it always ended with a Liverpool victory.
Of course, it’s not all about scoring goals. Hazard provided 7 assists compared to Sterling’s 5, with Hazard displaying a superior ‘assist to minute ratio’. The twenty-three year old also provided 85 key passes, nearly double the amount that Sterling offered. The pass completion statistics are much closer, with the Chelsea man completing 83% of his passes, Sterling just behind on 82%.
Hazard is often portrayed as the best dribbler in the league, with endless highlight reels of his tricks and flicks doing the rounds. Sterling however, has a higher successful dribble percentage at 64.34%, compared to Hazard’s not too shabby 62.86%.
Sterling’s shot accuracy is also superior to the Belgian, with 67% of his efforts hitting the target while Hazard lags behind with 59%. Defensively too, the Liverpool player comes in top with 32 tackles won, whilst Hazard could only manage 18.
Of course the individual statistics are impressive, but which player has the most impact on their team’s overall performance?
Well, Sterling couldn’t get into the Liverpool team at the start of the 2013/14 season, and was kept at bay by Iago Aspas(!) and Victor Moses. He started just one of Liverpool’s opening twelve fixtures, the home win against Crystal Palace. Hazard on the other hand was a permanent fixture in the Chelsea team, only missing one match in the club’s first thirty-two league fixtures, an away victory at Norwich.
Interestingly in the 24 matches that Sterling started, Liverpool came out on top in 70.83% of them. This would have been slightly higher if Liverpool had held on against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. To rub salt in Sterling’s wounds, he was withdrawn on 78 minutes with the scoreline 3-0 to Liverpool.
Chelsea’s win percentage with Hazard in the starting eleven clocks in at the lower figure of 65.63%, despite the fact that Hazard scored and assisted more goals in this period than Sterling.
Without the England man/boy, Liverpool won 64.29% of their matches, highlighting the youngster’s importance to the Reds. In contrast, Chelsea fared marginally better with Hazard off the pitch, winning 66.67 of their games minus the Belgian.
So the better player is? Well, you try telling any Scouser that you’d prefer to see Hazard in Liverpool’s starting line-up than Sterling, or casually mention to a Chelsea fan that Sterling would comfortably displace Hazard in the Stamford Bridge hierarchy. Please feel free to let me know how you got on.
Hazard may score more goals than Sterling, while the Liverpool man may be more accurate with his shooting, but there’s no denying that both players possess exceptional talent and, on their day, can provide match-winning performances for their respective teams. Their impact this season will go a long way to decide just how successful Liverpool or Chelsea can be, both domestically and in Europe.
I’m sure the fans frequenting the Kop wouldn’t swap Raheem Sterling for any other player in world football, and the same goes for Eden Hazard’s supporters sat in the Shed End.
Well, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo perhaps, but that’s a different article entirely.