Raheem Sterling Unfazed by Pressure as Liverpool’s Key Man

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Brendan Rodgers recently compared Raheem Sterling’s goal against Man City in pre-season to that of a finish akin to Lionel Messi. Jack Lusby believes the 19-year-old is unfazed by any such pressure.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 17, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the first goal against Southampton during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Coming off the back of a storming performance during Sunday’s 2-1 home victory over Southampton, Raheem Sterling looks every bit likely to fulfil the considerable expectations weighed onto his young shoulders.

The biggest yet may have come from the Reds’ manager, Brendan Rodgers, last week.

Following a successful spell in pre-season, the Ulsterman compared his young charge to one Lionel Messi.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the manager claimed:

“[Sterling] has to score goals and create goals. That’s what the job is. He scored 10 goals last year and this kid is only going to get better.

“When you look at the finish against Manchester City in New York, how many times have we seen Messi produce a touch like that?”

The manager then clarified in his pre-Southampton press conference:

“I didn’t say Raheem Sterling was like Lionel Messi, I was a bit shocked to read I’d ‘said’ that. He’s a great young talent though.”

Regardless, given Sterling’s impact for the Reds in 2014, the youngster has immense potential—but is the Messi comparison a step too far?

The Liverpool manager has made a similar mistake before, referring to the then-new signing Joe Allen with a tongue-in-cheek “Welsh Xavi” comparison during the Being: Liverpool documentary.

The midfielder recently refuted such claims, but sees them as an inspiration.

Clearly in the same vein, Rodgers believes that Sterling can become one of the most important players in his squad for now and for the foreseeable future—big pressure for a 19-year-old.

This is seemingly apparent beyond the Northern Irishman too, with a large measure of Liverpool’s hopes for the season being placed at the feet of the former QPR youngster.

This may seem like overzealous man-management on behalf of Rodgers — overhyping a player can often be the beginning of his downfall — but Sterling’s performance against Southampton on Sunday shows the forward is truly unfazed by any pressure.

 

Liverpool 2 – 1 Southampton

The opening weekend victory over Southampton at Anfield will not go down as one of the Premier League’s most eye-catching of fixtures—or a classic in the Liverpool annals—but the Reds left with a vital three points all the same.

This was in a large part due to the contributions of Sterling, who scored one and assisted Daniel Sturridge’s late winner.

Sterling was deployed, initially, on the left of a three-strong attacking midfield, with Philippe Coutinho as the No. 10 and Jordan Henderson on the opposite flank.

Coutinho was consistently marked out of the game by an imperious Victor Wanyama, and it is no surprise that the Brazilian was substituted late on.

Sterling capitalised somewhat on his teammate’s marginalisation.

Any pressure heaped on Coutinho by Southampton’s midfield allowed Sterling to drift intelligently into space and run behind defenders—a trait most common within the teenager’s game already.

This allowed Sterling to collect a sensational lofted-through ball courtesy of Henderson and fired past Fraser Forster into the Saints’ net.

Following Coutinho’s withdrawal, and Rickie Lambert’s introduction, Sterling moved into the central attacking role behind the forward two; here, Liverpool’s system adapted to great effect.

With more of an emphasis on wide-play—with the swashbuckling Javier Manquillo particularly effective here—Sterling was able to latch on to a partially-cleared cross to nod the ball across for Sturridge to convert.

Sterling was duly awarded Sky Sports’ man-of-the-match award, underlining the forward’s ability to perform exceptionally despite such weighty pressure.

 

Looking Onwards

Overall, whilst this opening weekend victory was a much tougher task than perhaps was expected, this was an encouraging performance for the Reds.

A title-challenge will require results ground from the clutches of disappointment, and players such as Sterling—unfazed by this pressure—will be paramount.

The reluctant performance of Coutinho could well see the youngster move into a central role at times, and Rodgers’s targets for Sterling will require the forward to contribute frequently in front of goal.

A return of 10 goals and 10 assists should be considered a success for a player already so ahead of his development—this should be pressure enough.

Collecting his man-of-the-match award during a post-match interview, Sterling was typically phlegmatic in his evaluation, telling Sky Sports:

“It’s great to get off to a good start…they made us work really hard, but the boys grind through and luckily at the end we got the goal.”

The 19-year-old will do well to preserve this modesty.

Comparing Raheem Sterling to Lionel Messi is perhaps as helpful as comparing Joe Allen to Xavi, in this witless populace, but continue this progress and the forward can become as important to the Reds as the Argentine is to Barcelona.

How important will Raheem Sterling be for Liverpool this season? Let us know in the comments below.

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