Video: Raheem Sterling v. Toronto

Along with the early signs of possession football, when it came to the players the most encouraging thing to come from Brendan Rodgers' pre-season debut as manager of Liverpool Football Club were the performances of some of the youngsters, with Dani Pacheco, Suso, and Raheem Sterling all receiving praise for both their efforts and effectiveness. And amongst that trio, Sterling in particular made a strong case on Saturday that he should remain at Liverpool for the coming season.

The diminutive winger was impressive as he continuously challenged his fullback and linked up naturally with Suso, the midfield playmaker he's spent the past two seasons combing with down the left at the reserve and youth level. With both players putting in far more convincing performances than some of their more experienced teammates, it will be interesting to see if Rodgers considers using the combination in the remaining pre-season games and perhaps even in the early going of the Europa League before making a final judgement on whether either or both are ready to be regularly included in the senior squad.

Saturday's match also highlighted the difference a year can make in the development of a player, as the younger Jordan Ibe–a player hyped as a 16-year-old to nearly the levels Sterling himself was—in the first half showed plenty of bravery on the ball but was far too predictable in his attack to cause the Toronto defence many concerns. By comparison, the added variety apparent in Sterling's game—and that he was notably far more willing to make the early pass—showed a player far further along in his development.

And on that front, perhaps the most surprising and encouraging sign for those hoping Sterling will stay in Liverpool this season and at least see some action off the bench, in the Europa League, and in the domestic cups, was how strong the young winger was on the ball against more senior players on Saturday. It wasn't a perfect performance, but it was amongst Liverpool's most encouraging, and for a first pre-season game you can hardly ask for more. Now everyone will just have to work that little bit harder at keeping their expectations from getting out of hand.



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