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A Breakdown of Raheem Sterling, Wingback

Today, we take a look at Raheem Sterling's match as a wingback against Crystal Palace this past weekend... and introduce a potential new feature to The Liverpool Offside.

Clive Brunskill

Much has been said of Raheem Sterling's outing as a wingback on Saturday, but little in the way of detailed breakdown has been done yet. Today, we fix that, with a little bit of an extra added bonus to help visualize the analysis.

No, your eyes do not deceive you. Below is an all-touches compilation put together not by Mostar, or MrBoydWunder, or any of the other better-known compilation kings. No, this one is made by... yours truly.

Nifty, eh? Unlike some compilations put out, I made a concerted effort to get every touch that Sterling had in the match, good, bad, or otherwise. There are a couple missing thanks to issues with my source video, but probably 98% of them are there. Given the occasion, I also tried to get in as much of his defensive contributions as I could, even if he didn't wind up touching the ball.

To start with, I've already said some words on the matter, so let's revisit those real quick. From my First Thoughts post immediately after the match:

So let's talk about this Raheem Sterling as a wing back thing. It was... uhm... not great. Perhaps not as bad as initially anticipated, but still not great. He grew in to the role a bit more as the match went on, but he still spent most of his time playing as though he was a winger with a fullback behind him, which is dangerous at best when playing as a wing back. He was caught out of position several times after either not recovering from a run forward fast enough or being too aggressive with his pressing. Fortunately Palace was offering very little in the way of meaningful threat on his flank, but he still created too many nervy moments. He did have a a couple of nice takeaways when he caught Palace players dallying on the ball, but by and large there were a lot of nervy moments coming from him when Liverpool didn't have the ball

And some slightly expanded thoughts from the comments of that post:

I actually though he had a fair game, he was just played out of position and it showed. He’s not a wingback outside of a break-glass-only-in-case-of-dire-emergency-no-really-you-do-know-what-dire-means-right need, like we had today. In terms of his overall play though, especially going forward, he was fine. I was hardly expecting Maggio in his prime [...]; I was actually more or less expecting what we saw today.

Note that I didn’t criticize Rodgers for the selection at all. Considering the current squad situation and the opponent, Raheem was the best of a not-great set of options. I thought it was a good experiment to try today, and now we know what we have there. It’s not great, but it’s there.

Put simply, and the video bears this out, Sterling's work defensively left a lot to be desired, but his offensive work was to the usual standard we've come to expect from the teenager. He made some great supporting runs, made himself available as an outlet, and was generally quite a handful for Dean Moxey to deal with. He still needs a better end product in the final third of the pitch, but that will come with experience, and he's still managing to do useful things despite the lack of refinement.

What was potentially concerning, however, was his defensive game. Yes, Sterling was played out of position, but wingers are still often tasked with defensive duties, and the basics are the same at both winger and wing back: positioning is king, you don't let your man get inside you, and you find and cut off passing lanes whenever possible. The defensive duties are emphasized more at wing back, however, and any problems are magnified as a result.

Unfortunately, Sterling ran in to plenty of problems. His positional sense going back is still lacking, and he has very little feel for what the man he's facing is going to do, leading to him getting turned around too soon and his man getting inside of him on a number of occasions. He did show an aptitude for sniffing out passing lanes, but he's still a step slow at processing that and getting in to them, which just leaves him out of position again. I also noticed a tendency to defensive passivity in Liverpool's third of the pitch when the ball wasn't on his side of the pitch; he'd more or less find a spot at the edge of the box, often by Kolo Toure, and sit there watching the ball. It didn't lead to any issues in this match, but it's also not something you want to see out of your edge defender.

Sterling did have some good defensive moments. He had a couple key takeaways, including one late in the first half that broke up a dangerous Crystal Palace attack. He was also a vital outlet against Palace attacks on several occasions, allowing Toure or Martin Skrtel to get the ball out to his flank instead of just hoofing the ball away.

While Sterling didn't show enough to think that he can play further back on a regular basis, he did well enough to have good thoughts on his overall development as a winger. While most of the issues he showed going back will improve with playing time and experience, he's raw enough in them to suggest that those skills will never improve to a point that playing him as a full back or wing back will be feasible in more than an emergency scenario, but he could improve enough that he won't be a defensive liability as a winger, which many wingers are these days. Given the expectations on Sterling's offensive game, knowing that he'll have some defensive chops to round things out is a nice feather in his cap as a prospect.

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At current, the video is a one-off, but could well become a regular thing if you guys like it and want to see more. The process to making them needs some refining (it took bloody forever), but if you guys like them, it's definitely something I could do more of. I broke out the techno and dubstep for the music because, well, you kinda have to on these videos, right? That said, I will use some variety on the music, though it should be noted that I'll only use music that I like, and I actually do like some techno. I don't care for what gets used in a lot of compilation videos, though, so at least you'll get a different sound if I do break out the beep-bop sounds. Let me know what you think.

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