Analysis: Sterling must improve drastically to reach Real standard

When he burst on to the scene in the early part of 2012-13, Raheem Sterling was seen by those in Liverpool and much further afield as the proverbial breath of  fresh air as he took on and often got the better of much more experienced and highly regarded opponents, leaving many observers to need reminding that he was only 17 years of age. With a combination of pace and youthful trickery, he was fast gaining admiration.

There was the occasional off-colour performance, but that was to be expected of somebody so young, and manager Brendan Rodgers saw it as best to rest him for much of the second half of that season before coming back fully recharged for the following campaign, where he would play a lot more and truly establish himself as a key member of the starting XI in what turned out to be an unexpected challenge to win the Premier League title.

Much of that success was down to a terrific understanding with Luis Suarez, who got the best out of the burgeoning England star from the moment they first played together. Their link-up play was continually sublime and played a massive part in the club’s feat of scoring over 100 league goals last term.

But the departure of Suarez in the summer of 2014 has left Sterling, in a sense, to fend for himself. With another prolific goalscorer in Daniel Sturridge sidelined for most of last nine months, he has taken on a great deal more responsibility, and is looked upon to provide that moment of inspiration to unlock an opposition defence or to compete against a strong side, as was the case when Real Madrid visited Anfield in the Champions League in October.

But unfortunately he has, more often than not, been unable to deliver on such an expectation. Despite continued backing from Rodgers and the considerable faith shown in him by England boss Roy Hodgson his performances have deteriorated. There no longer seems to be any end product to his play, he regular looks incapable of beating his marker, while his decision making in the final has left a lot to be desired; the result of over-complicating his game. Philippe Coutinho has outshone him by some distance this season in a Liverpool shirt.

All this has been going on amid an ongoing contract saga with the Reds, with Sterling reportedly having told the club that he will not be signing a new deal, regardless of the salary offered. Some of the Premier League’s other top clubs including Arsenal and Manchester City have both been linked, while newly installed Real Madrid Head Coach Rafael Benitez has had to field questions on his alleged interest.

The fact is that Sterling is unlikely to have as much playing time at any of those three clubs to what he currently does at Liverpool, where he is held in massively high regard despite his recent indifference. When on form he is capable of moments of real quality, but as yet he has not proved himself worthy of any of the mooted transfer fees, let alone a contract in excess of £100,000 per week.

There is still a significant amount of progression for him to make. As things stand there is no comparison between Sterling and Real Madrid’s biggest stars, and even the English top-flight’s Player of the Season Eden Hazard. Only by concentrating on his football and not allowing himself or his agent to think about moving on from Liverpool can he improve. He still has a long way to go before proving himself one of best wingers in the Premier League, never mind one of the best in Europe.

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