EPL: Go easy on Sterling

EPL: Go easy on Sterling

When Raheem Sterling spurned Liverpool's best chance against Manchester United last Sunday, many Reds fans all over the world would have screamed in horror.

So much was at stake in the heated rivalry; a goal for the visitors would have given them a lifeline to get back into the game at Old Trafford, but the 20-year-old could only shoot straight at David de Gea after Jonny Evans' wayward back pass had inadvertently put him through on goal in the second half.

Even today, there will be many Liverpool fans shaking their heads in disappointment when they recall the miss.

If the team's best player can't save Liverpool, who can?

Sterling is hardly short of talent.

He was touted as something special while in the youth ranks at Liverpool and he has lived up to that promise since being boldly unleashed by manager Brendan Rodgers two years ago.

Many critics have all questioned his composure in front of goal and his ability to finish. I believe they are off the mark.

The England winger needs a breather, and he could do with more help from the players around him.

TOO MUCH, TOO SOON

In the post-Suarez era and, with Daniel Sturridge sidelined long term, Sterling has been the single creative force for Liverpool; the sole source of penetration in their attacking third.

The Reds can no longer produce the lightning-fast counter-attacks or slick interplay between the forwards that so bamboozled their opponents last season and also thrilled us all, because the "SSS" is now just "S".

Sterling is Liverpool's joint-top scorer with just three goals - at this stage last season, Suarez already had 15 - and the youngster's last goal for the Reds came three months ago at West Ham.

It used to be the case that he simply had to use his pace and skill to attack defenders and carve out chances for his teammates and, on some occasions, he would bang in some himself.

But today, Sterling is counted on to create chances and shoulder much of the goalscoring opportunities.

It is too much for a youngster who is still learning his trade.

I'm convinced his production in front of goal will be better if his new teammates get in on the act.

Rickie Lambert is not good enough. Period.

Mario Balotelli has the ability, but he's already taken 35 shots without scoring.

That's down to his exasperating mental state, even foiling promising moves with his lazy, premature, long-range efforts.

Sterling is alone. He has taken on extra responsibility. And he is frustrated.

BEST POSITION?

Against United, Rodgers elected to play Sterling in a central striking role.

The move troubled the Red Devils for much of the game. Sterling made intelligent runs behind the United defence and provided an outlet for Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana's passes.

With confidence missing, however, he fluffed his lines with his own opportunities.

It is an issue that is affecting Liverpool as a whole. Confidence is crucial and the Reds desperately need last season's mojo back.

Sterling has started centrally twice so far this season, and scored each time.

He has mostly been used on the right and has been good enough to create 36 chances for his strikers - even before the United game - according to OPTA Sports.

It does suggest that in the end, Sterling could eventually be good enough to be given the freedom to operate across the front line for club, and country.

Before last weekend, only Southampton's Dusan Tadic has created more chances (40) from open play in the Premier League than Sterling.

He is Liverpool's catalyst at the moment, the man with the attacking responsibilities, but Sterling cannot be asked to do what Suarez did last season.

He is destined for stardom, but that destiny will not be realised now.

Without Sturridge, with an ageing Steven Gerrard, and new signings Lambert and Balotelli misfiring, Rodgers may think he has no choice but to rely on Sterling to try his best and do damage for the club in a striker's role.

The Liverpool manager should instead work the socks off Lambert, Balotelli and Lazar Markovic and start with at least a couple of them away to Championship leaders Bournemouth in the League Cup quarter-finals on Thursday morning (Singapore time).

They need to shoulder the responsibility of scoring while Sterling should be given the licence to roam in a difficult cup tie.

It is a tough test against an in-form side, but it is also the perfect opportunity for Rodgers' team, and their most dangerous attacker, to bounce back and regain that all-important confidence.

aakasim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 16, 2014.
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