Confident Sterling Looks to Stay in the Lineup

Paul Gilham

In the best form of his young career, Raheem Sterling is looking to keep things going in the coming weeks, but the return of Daniel Sturridge means somebody's going to be missing out.

With Daniel Sturridge returning to full fitness, all of a sudden there's a little less room in Liverpool's starting eleven. Assuming Brendan Rodgers will prioritise getting both halves of the Premier League's most dangerous strike-force on the pitch, it means either one of Raheem Sterling or Philippe Coutinho lose out on the wings or a midfielder gets removed and the club switches to something of a 4-2-2-2, at least against sides below them in the table.

Sterling, though, isn't worrying himself with where he fits in the lineup now that Sturridge is back and is counting on his recent good form to keep him in the picture. One can never know for certain how a manager will judge his options, but on that recent good form, Sterling is probably the least likely to find himself dropped from the starting eleven on Saturday against Aston Villa to make room for the reunited Suarez and Sturridge.

"I'm really enjoying having a run in the team," said the young winger when asked about his growing role in the team. "I've been given a chance, the manager has put faith in me and played me week in, week out so far. Hopefully I can produce on the pitch and carry on. I knew within myself that there would be a point in the season when I would get a chance, and I just had to be ready. The chance came and hopefully I can repay the manager by either scoring or assisting."

"Last season I looked at my game and I wasn't making the box enough. This season all three of my goals have come within the box. I just need to keep making the box and the chances will come. Hopefully I'll get some more goals and add to my stats. The manager has just said to carry on working hard for the team, and as long as the team is winning, we're all happy. I'm just working hard and trying to do the best that I can. I feel really confident now and feel as if I'm getting into my zone."

Between Sterling and Coutinho, the two players who have flanked Suarez in recent weeks, Sterling appears on better form, and if one of the pair has to be dropped to make room it seems more likely to be Coutinho. It may be more likely, though, that with Joe Allen injured and only three healthy midfielders, dropping one of Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, or Jordan Henderson for the bench could be the most sensible option—at least against a side like Aston Villa on Saturday.

Of the options available in such a scenario, a midfield pairing of Lucas and Henderson seems by far the most defensively solid, and in support of four almost purely attacking players defensive solidity would seem the main criteria for selecting the midfield duo. Most Liverpool fans, though, will fully expect that if Rodgers does go with two in the middle, one of them will be Steven Gerrard regardless of how it impacts the balance of the rest of the lineup.

At least publicly, Sterling isn't worrying about possible lineups and tactics and who ends up making way for Daniel Sturridge on Saturday—though in his head it would be hard to imagine he's not at least thinking let it be somebody other than me. His main concern, he says, is keeping his confidence high, something he believes the entire squad is doing better this season and that is key to a stronger than expected first half of the season that saw Liverpool top of the table over Christmas.

"Confidence is the most important thing for my game," he added. "If I'm not confident, I don't do the stuff I normally would do, I just do the safe or simple option. But now getting into my zone with the senior players encouraging you to do what they know you can do, it's a really good moment for me and the team. This season if you come into the dressing room before and after the game you can see the difference that has been made by the team bonding."

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