Prior to the start of the 2012-2013 season, few could have guessed that a handful of Liverpool's youngsters would be logging significant minutes in the Premier League. Rafa had brought many of them to the club, but under Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish they were either unfavored or simply not ready, and there was little to indicate that there would be a sea change with the arrival of Brendan Rodgers.
But the manager's words in the early season focused on quality and not reputation, and as things got rolling--and the injuries started to mount up--Rodgers showed that it wasn't just talk, and Raheem Sterling led the way with a start in the club's home date with Manchester City back in August. Time in the cups was a given, and we'd already seen many of the younger names in the preseason and the Europa League. Doing it in league was another matter altogether, though, and the trend has continued over the past few weeks, with regular playing time on tap for Sterling, Suso, and Andre Wisdom.
Today's performance from Sterling probably wasn't his best on the year, but it resembled progress after two matches in which he'd found little joy. Norwich had him locked down fairly well and Stoke outmuscled him, and it was clear that if he was going to match the heights he reached earlier in the year, he'd have to adapt. Today showed he's capable of that, even if he lingered a touch too long at times and made a few decisions that were questionable in possession.
Those are the types of mistakes you'd expect from someone who's still only 17 years old--seriously, 17--even if we'd have expected him to mature five years or so in the past month. He's going to struggle and get figured out by the opposition, and he's probably going to continue to make decisions that leave us scratching our heads. But the importance of getting a match-winner at a time when Liverpool desperately needed it cannot be understated, and days like today will only aid his development.
And, if rumors are to be believed, he'll be following suit in signing an extended contract, which means we'll have a chance to witness that development from up-close.