This is a brand new world. The post Luis Suárez era. The first season in the Champions League after an absence of four years. £75 million reasons for unhappiness or optimism depending on one's personal predilections when it comes to assessing anything associated with the club. What we do know as fans whether our lenses are objective or subjective is that Raheem Sterling is a serious talent and in fact, his form from December to May last season changed much in terms of Liverpool's recruitment process.
A member of what John W Henry described as "the three gentlemen" after another relentless attacking performance. Such was his form from December last year until the end of the season, he wasn't regarded as a poor member of the "SSS" attacking triumvirate alongside Daniel Sturridge and Liverpool's former number seven. We will never know how history might have changed if moves for Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka were successful in the January transfer window. What we do know is that Raheem Sterling arrived.
9 goals and 5 assists from 33 appearances (24 starts) in one of Europe's best leagues is not something that even talented 19-year-olds can do. Adam Lallana had a career best season and registered the same number of goals and one more assist than the young England international. Lallana's 1.8 shots per game compared to Sterling's 1.4 further emphasises that Sterling's finishing has immeasurably improved from the season before last. Lallana may have been in a weaker side but Sterling is six-and-a-half years younger than Liverpool's new recruit.
Sterling and Lallana are different players of course who played slightly different roles. Lallana is an interesting comparison simply because he's a lovely all-round footballer full of guile, balance, productivity, and two-footed goodness. Only 18 Premier League players scored more league goals than Sterling, which paints part of the picture behind his rapid development. He can be a threat on the left or right of the attack and Rodgers' successful experiments with Sterling in the hole revealed a footballer with genuine tactical intelligence, flexibility, adaptability, and composure.
Daniel Sturridge was his big brother but the influence of Luis Suárez shouldn't be underestimated. Spending two seasons with such an attacking force when Sterling was, and still is, developing his attacking game was invaluable. In Sterling's first season, he was the primary attacking support for Liverpool's devastating box of tricks until December. He would later pick up some of the Uruguayan's runs and by the time Sturridge arrived, Sterling's form had already dipped. At 17 or 18 years of age, that should be expected and it wasn't ever worthy of any excessive criticism.
Spending time with such a ferocious competitor, dedicated trainer, and world class talent offered Sterling an opportunity for modelling that most youngsters just do not have. Adding Sturridge to that offered untold benefits for such a precocious talent. After the dramatic victory over Manchester City, Sterling remarked on what Liverpool's "soloists" offered in terms of education.
It's great playing with players like Luis and Dan. They create chances out of nothing, and for someone like me, I've just got to be in and around it and be there to support. You might not get a goal every game, but there'll be opportunities with the chances they create, so I've just got to be around the box and learning from them on how they're getting into the box and making runs. That's what I am trying to do - learn from both of them and try to get my goal ratio up.
From two league goals to nine. At one stage, it looked like Sterling could have been England's World Cup saviour and was superb in his nation's opening match in that tournament against Italy. What further underlined the promise of Liverpool's number 31 was that it was in a central attacking position just behind his club teammate, Daniel Sturridge. Sterling is the sort of player who should be expected to reaching double figures in goals and assists or at least, very close to such a target.
It's not the quality of Luis Suárez new attacking signings will have to live up to but the likes of Sturridge and Sterling as well. Crudely put, Brendan Rodgers cannot put chumps alongside Sterling. Lazar Marković? He's got the va-va-voom to join in with silly creative stuff in training and be part of a lightning quick counter attack. Rickie Lambert? He can actually "see" the game,play a bit, and bring others into the game plus he's a reserve anyway. Adam Lallana? Two-footed, technical, and intelligent. A player's kind of player. This brave new world actually could be somewhat exciting. Maybe.
Sterling's performances, productivity, and potential has ensured that attacking players must possess something of high value otherwise Liverpool won't bother. Would Konoplyanka or Salah start over Sterling? Probably not but in the January transfer window, the answer was very different. That's the effect of Raheem Sterling. He's raised the bar, not only for himself but for those who wish to join him. Of course, he needs to continue to work on his game, retain his growing consistency, and just keep doing much of the stunningly effective work on the football pitch. However, if a Liverpool fan is counting reasons to be hopeful, Raheem Sterling would be one of the first that come to mind.
Here's a reminder of the form that inspired Brendan Rodgers to make the understated observation that Raheem Sterling was "the best young footballer in European football" during the sharper end of Liverpool's title challenge. He can press effectively, is defensively disciplined, offers an effective counter attack threat, plays with his head up, sees difficult passes, retains the ball well, runs through walls, finishes with general confidence, and has got that star quality whenever he's on the ball. Raheem Sterling makes things happen.
Raheem Sterling | 2013 - 2014 | Part 1 (via LFC Tiki Taka)
Raheem Sterling | 2013 - 2014 | Part 2 (via LFC Tiki Taka)
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