Brendan Rodgers believes Raheem Sterling is on course to become a top-class Premier League striker as he continues to develop his eye for goal.
The Liverpool manager admits Sterling is a natural winger but has tasked him with being the focal point of the attack as Rodgers continues to tweak his side to replicate the goalscoring feats they achieved last season.
After scoring three times in his last three games, including the winner against Burnley on Boxing Day, Rodgers believes that Sterling’s work rate and willingness to learn are the key factors in a so far seamless transformation.
Rodgers said: “I think there are players that are natural-born goalscorers and they live to score goals, they want to score a goal. Some are not so worried about what they do in the build-up, not concerned about how hard they work, but they want to score a goal. They have that ability to get a goal.
“Then you get other players, the top-class players who work very hard, who have that ability to score a lot of goals and create goals and that’s something that develops with confidence over your career. I think we see him like that and I think his numbers over his career will keep improving and improving.
“For me I’m very happy with his performance. He’s gone into that role, he’s offered us a real threat, his pace in every game is phenomenal but he’s got that bit of composure at the end. He’s going to miss some chances of course but you’ve seen at Burnley the one opportunity he had he took it.”
Sterling has big shoes to fill as he bids to compensate for the absence of Daniel Sturridge. In his relatively short career to date, Sterling has only reached double figures once, last season.
Stepping up could be seen as a big ask for a player who has only just turned 20 years old, but his manager has every confidence he can stand up to the weight of expectation.
“He deals with it so well but it’s hard to hide the talent,” Rodgers added. “If you have that talent you’re going to be under that scrutiny and we protect the players as much as we can.
“I’ve seen him develop into a wonderful young man. He’s got great maturity. I think back to the boy when I arrived here when he was 17 and I see him now and the maturity that he has and how he’s taken it all in his stride. Of course he’s had difficult moments but as I said he’s a real pleasure to work with.
“He obviously realises the harder you climb the ladder people want to criticise you more as well but that’s all part of the dance. I’m delighted to work with him and hopefully we can be together for a long time.”
Liverpool close the first half of their campaign on Sunday as they welcome Swansea to Anfield. A win would see them draw level on points with the visitors, although the Welsh side possess a superior goal difference.
As they bid to close the gap on the Champions League places, Rodgers hopes that an improved second half of the season can see them fulfil their pre-season ambitions.
Rodgers said: “For us the objectives are very much the same – we want to finish in that top four. We know there’s a long road but the points can whittle away very quickly. We’re seven points behind that but we’ll take each game as it comes and if we can keep this momentum going and keep the focus we can have a real good second half to the season.”