Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling: A nightmare blend of dynamism & creativity 3

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Just as he did last season, Raheem Sterling thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon at White Hart Lane today and he was comfortably Liverpool’s most influential player during the 3-0 canter past Tottenham.

Sterling is English, so it doesn’t take much for him to attract the usual hyperbole, but in this instance the lavish praise and lofty projections of his future are fully justified.  He isn’t just a theoretical talent, he’s a player who has already reached an extremely high standard at a very young age.  Because he’s been in and around football’s consciousness for quite a long time, it’s easy to forget that he is just nineteen and he still has a wealth of learning experiences ahead of him; if his development continues at its current rate, goodness knows how far he could go in the game.

So what is about Sterling that makes him special?

There are plenty of players who are good on the ball and who are able to beat isolated defenders, but typically that sort of attacking player has flaws elsewhere in his game that restrict him.  With Sterling, it’s the combination of that ability with several others which makes him so difficult for opponents to subdue.

Sterling is a confluence between the attributes associated with traditional wing-play, off-the-ball movement, and creativity.  When you think of his highlight-reel you don’t just picture a set clips which involve him beating a defender, you imagine a much broader showcase.  Over the past year, you’ll be able to find examples of him playing through-balls to teammates, carrying the ball dynamically, a diverse range of goals and of him moving into space in the manner expected of a natural forward.  Just use this season as your sample and look at the range within those three games - or just this afternoon: the back-post run that led to his goal was something more associated with Daniel Sturridge, and some of his passing around the edges of Tottenham’s box was of a quality you might expect from Philippe Coutinho.  He’s not just one type of player, he’s a blend.

That makes him incredibly difficult to contain.  If a player can influence a game in all manner of ways and from a diverse variety of positions, an opposing manager can’t employ a single defensive tactic to subdue him.  Sterling can’t, for example, simply be shown on to his weaker foot, because he can beat a defender on either side, and nor can he be assigned a man-marker for the duration of a game, because his movement will ultimately destroy the integrity of a defence.

Compare him with another similar-styled English player, someone like Aaron Lennon for example.  Lennon was very effective in his early years, but only ever in a certain way.   He would terrorise full-backs on the right-hand side and, despite the inconsistency of his delivery, he was very influential.  Over time, however, he became less and less relevant within the Premier League, predominantly because he never added a second or third dimension to his game.  He didn’t acquire any play-making ability, he never managed to even adequately perform more than one role, and he forced himself to rely on the same habits season-after-season.

He’s still just twenty-seven, but Aaron Lennon is buster flush in this league because there isn’t a defender or manager out there who hasn’t worked him out.

At nineteen, Raheem Sterling is already an infinitely more diverse player.  Yes, he occupies more areas of the pitch, has a broader skill-set, and possesses more game-intelligence, but he’s also not as reliant on others to fuel his own performance.  He doesn’t need to be played into space and doesn’t only thrive when running behind a defence, he’s capable of coming in-field and searching for the ball, forcing himself upon a game.

Liverpool return to the Champions League this season and, amongst other points of intrigue, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the top-tier sides handle Sterling.  Within Brendan Rodgers’ system he has such license to express himself and to show that he really doesn’t fit many of our English player stereotypes.  He’s a very, very modern attacking-midfielder and he will be a match for the absolute best on the continent.

 

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