Raheem Sterling put in a man of the match performance against Queens Park Rangers as he was involved in all three Liverpool goals on his return to Loftus Road for the second time since leaving for Liverpool four years ago.
All eyes were on the teenager before the game after a turbulent week in which the England manager disclosed that the player confessed to being tired in a training session before their European Championship qualifier against Estonia and featured for the final 23 minutes in which he won the free kick that Wayne Rooney curled home for the winner.
Sterling has become an integral member of the Liverpool attack since the turn of the year and even though he wasn’t involved much in the first half an hour of what was a turgid display by his side, the youngster ended up being the star performer on the day.
Starting on the right side of attack, he constantly dropped deep to receive the ball in midfield before laying off a pass and spinning away to join a lonely Balotelli in attack. His heat map shows how often he was present in the centre of midfield and it was his runs with and without the ball through the middle that led to Liverpool’s second and third goals.
Sterling Heat map vs QPR
For Coutinho’s goal, he dropped inside his own half to collect a half cleared corner before turning Karl Henry and charging forward in the opposition’s half. He didn’t get overconfident and wisely chose to pass to Gerrard who was bombing forward himself, before the captain laid it for Coutinho to cut inside and score.
Sterling’s decision making decided the result on Sunday as kept a cool head in the 5th minute of injury time. He had the clear picture in mind where Balotelli was, and where many experienced campaigners would have chosen to shoot, Sterling had only one thing on his mind and that was to square up his teammate. It paid off, as Caulker stumbled home Liverpool’s winner.
Sterling Passing vs QPR
Playing short, quick one touch passes and linking up with the midfielders is what Sterling thrives at. After Lovren and Enrique, he had the most touches for Liverpool with 66 and played 3 key passes which was the joint highest alongside Henderson.
Sterling Dribbling vs QPR
Sterling is a brilliant dribbler of the ball and he’s not afraid to take on players. He was only behind Hazard and Suarez in take ons last season and this season too, his 26 dribbles are only behind Hazard who has 41. On Sunday, he completed 6 dribbles in the match with no other player completing more than 2.
The best chance of the match before the goals started flowing was a result of Sterling’s dribbling. He received the ball inside his own half before turning two players and driving infield before he tried to feed Balotelli. The ball fell to Adam Lallana whose shot was saved before Balotelli missed an open goal. It all came down due the 19 year old’s driving run.
Sterling tackling vs QPR
Not averse to helping out his defenders, Sterling completed 5 tackles which were more than any other Liverpool player on the day and only Mauricio Isla and Karl Henry from QPR had the same as the 19-year-old.
Having been fouled twice in the match which was the joint highest stat for a Liverpool player, it was down to his and Glen Johnson’s quick thinking that led to the first Liverpool goal after Sterling was fouled near the right by line.
On the other hand, Sterling didn’t commit a single foul on his opponents. From Liverpool, Gerrard was the only player apart from Sterling who played the full 90 and didn’t concede a single freekick.
The Jamaican born 19-year-old continues his meteoric rise as he displayed some silky skills on the ground where he began his career.
He has now played 1967 Premier League minutes in 2014 which is more than any other player under the age of 21 and Brendan Rodgers will need to manage his game time judiciously in order to prevent him from burning out so that he can continue to bewilder defences like he did on Sunday.