With Daniel Sturridge out injured, one of Liverpool's other gifted attackers would have to step up. Given he had scored 11 goals in his four previous league outings against Norwich, the odds were on that player being Luis Suarez. Instead, and though Suarez did add to his tally, the player who stepped up more than any other was Raheem Sterling.
Scoring Liverpool's first and third—the latter with the help of a wild deflection that took his shot looping over John Ruddy—he also set up Suarez brilliantly for the second and continued to show the tactical flexibility that has seen him blossom into far more than a speedy winger. It's no surprise, then, that Brendan Rodgers was full of praise for him following the match.
"I think he is arguably the best young player in European football at the moment," said Rodgers, and depending on just how one defines the word young he may have a good case. "I've been really pleased with his maturity. He puts an awful lot of time into his work. We've tried to play him in different positions to improve his football intelligence.
"You could see how today he operated at the top of the diamond. He penetrated and was comfortable on the ball. When we switched to 4-3-3, he was the wide player on the side. It really shows you how intelligent he is as a footballer. He's got that in-built brain and belief he can be a good player. "
There's little doubt Sterling is one of the top youngsters in England—and in all of Europe, too. Using the measures often applied to awards and international competition that would place Sterling alongside the likes of Eden Hazard and Neymar, though, isn't likely to see him top of many people's lists.
Amongst teenage talent, though, there's little true competition. While he's hardly the only 19-year-old with talent and promise to spare, there is nobody else who is putting in the kinds of performances he has been on a near weekly basis for a side standing favourites to win one of Europe's top leagues.
Despite the all the praise, all the hype, and both a key role in Liverpool's strongest title challenge of the Premier League era and an almost certain starting role for England at this summer's World Cup, Sterling isn't letting himself from getting carried away. He's keeping himself grounded and focused on the goal at hand:
"We come in every day at Melwood and see each other, everyone knows what the dream is at the end of it, so everyone is just keeping each other modest and we know that if we keep working hard there is this real goal at the end of it now. The important thing is for us to keep our heads down, keep working again this week, then go again this weekend."
One more cup final done and dusted, three more to go. There will be plenty of time for praise and celebration later. Right now, there's only time to worry about next Sunday's match against Chelsea.
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