Liverpool Focus – Sterling the pick of current youth crop

Brendan Rodgers’ brave decision to field a relatively weak side in Liverpool’s Europa League clash against Scottish side Hearts paid off as the Reds scored a valuable away goal to win the first-leg 1-0. That strike, an Andrew Webster own-goal, came in the 77th minute and gives the Merseysiders a welcome cushion ahead of the second-leg at Anfield next week. Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez were among the key players who did not feature, with Rodgers sensibly looking ahead to the crunch Premier League game against champions Manchester City this weekend.

With that important fixture firmly in mind, the Europa League gave the new Liverpool boss a chance to experiment with some fringe players. Young left-back Jack Robinson was handed a start, as was midfielder Jay Spearing and exciting 17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling. Veteran defender Jamie Carragher also lined up alongside Daniel Agger in defence – the Dane will be suspended for the game against City following his red card at West Brom and Carragher could be the one to replace him in the starting line-up when the Reds go head-to-head with Roberto Mancini’s side.

While Robinson did reasonably well at full-back, it was highly-rated Sterling who caught the attention of many supporters, just as he has been doing since the back end of the last campaign. Rodgers may still have his doubts about whether Sterling is ready to play a big role for Liverpool this season, but many of the fans have made up their minds.

Sterling appears to have it all – pace, trickery, a fearless attitude, the ability to put a cross into the box and of course, an eye for goal. All of these attributes were on show during the Hearts fixture – Sterling’s first start in a Reds shirt. While there is no doubt that the former Queens Park Rangers youth star still has a lot to learn and can definitely improve, there is the suggestion that these improvements to his game will only be made if he is involved in competitive football on a regular basis.

Sterling’s performance will certainly have given Rodgers plenty to think about. Should he be given an opportunity to start games in the top-flight and potentially take the league by storm due to his unpredictable style of play, or would it be better to keep the winger out of the limelight and allow him to continue to develop his game in the reserves? Only time will tell whether Rodgers fully trusts Sterling to make an impact in the Premier League.

For now, the attention will turn away from Sterling and towards the game against City. Liverpool will be looking to get some points on the board following their embarrassing defeat at the hands of West Brom. Another loss would pile the pressure on Rodgers ahead of the next home game against Arsenal, but a victory this weekend would completely turn the mood around at Anfield.

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