A year ago, Raheem Sterling was one of Liverpool's brightest prospects. Six months ago, he looked stuck in something of a sophomore slump. Now, despite still only being 19 years of age and having so far been involved in first team football for less than two full seasons, the best teenage attacker in England already looks something not too far off the finished article.
It's been a stunning rise for Sterling, and along with establishing himself as one of Liverpool's most important attackers, he seems a lock to head to Brazil this summer for the World Cup. As Sterling tells it, in large part it's simply down to having adjusted to life as a first team player rather an no longer feeling he's an academy interloper.
"When you train with players like Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez it's a bit nerve-wracking at first but you get used to it and start expressing yourself," admitted Sterling in a conversation with the Liverpool Echo. "I'm in that zone now where I can express myself and come out of my shell. I'm really settled and happy to be in the team.
"I'd say [Brendan Rodgers] got me settled off the pitch and he's made me realise that I'm here on merit because of what I've done in the youth team. He's told me to do what I've been doing in the youth team and just be confident and get on the ball."
After a shaky start to the season, he's done just that, and it's become impossible to imagine Sterling any further down the pecking order than first attacker off the bench as Liverpool push for their first title of the Premier League era. And when it comes to those title hopes, Sterling even sounds like his more experienced teammates as he looks to keep his focus on just the next match.
"To go to Old Trafford and score three goals is great and we're really happy with the performance, but the most important thing is to get the three points," he added. "The United game we just wanted to try our best and get the three points. We will try to take it step by step and then hopefully we will be where we need to be at the end of the season—up there at the top of the table."