It was a day no Liverpool fan wanted to acknowledge was coming but most certainly one which had so long seemed likely, despite the club’s outrageous efforts in last season’s Premier League title race.
The divisive figure of Luis Suarez left for pastures new -or, more specifically, Barcelona – after firing a mesmeric 31 goals for the Reds last term, along with a string of assists and individual accolades to boast.
The Uruguayan is quite simply irreplaceable but Brendan Rodgers will know he has to minimise the damage dealt to his armoury. There are undoubtedly signs of encouragement, though.
In Steven Gerrard they have a set-piece specialist, with Daniel Sturridge they boast a goal-hungry striker, and in young Raheem Sterling, Liverpool have the luxury of a teenager who is improving with every passing day.
And it is the latter, as Trevor Francis recently insisted, that can step up in the wake of Suarez’s departure, and rightly so. Liverpool’s fourth-highest goalscorer last season; Sterling was a match for anyone.
It has been a fascinating pre-season for the England international, thus far, with goals against Olympiacos and a Suarez-esque finesse effort in the win over Manchester City on Wednesday night. He could have had more, with an audacious finish finding the top corner late on against the Citizens, only to be wrongly ruled offside.
It has not been all plain sailing for young Sterling over the last 12 months. Crucified in the press after his showing against Hull City prior to Christmas, the former QPR man had to step up. Much has happened since that miserable and dark afternoon. But amidst the madness of that 3-1 loss, one constant has remained: Sterling’s desire and hunger to win.
Just 19-years-old, Sterling appeared 33 times for the Reds in the league last season, playing the full ninety-minutes 15 times. His fleet-footed nature, coupled with his blistering pace ensured he was never daunted by the prospect of colossal defenders. An almost welterweight look to him, Sterling more than held his own and with his nine domestic goals he propelled Liverpool to second place.
A cliche that so often surrounds players of Sterling’s age is that they need to work on aspects of their game, most notably finishing. At such a tender age, youngsters are usually associated with an almost irresistible temptation to smash efforts at goal, which are usually in vain. However, Sterling acted ten years his senior last term and took on the mantle in becoming Liverpool’s midfield metronome.
His ability to contribute to interchangeable systems, a key feature in a Brendan Rodgers side, meant Sterling was moved from right to left, with a stint in the middle to accommodate the diamond formation, yet he never went hiding. A 67% shot accuracy was remarkably the highest in the Liverpool side last season, while a conversion rate of 27.3% highlighted his efficiency; memories of Sterling’s goal against Man City at Anfield speak a thousand words.
Sterling was arguably one of the most important ingredients in Liverpool’s success last season as the high-flying winger unlocked the remarkable scoring potential in the Reds side en route to the team’s 84-point and 101-goal haul. Sterling moved with a thrilling sense of freedom that not only made fans stand up and take notice, but also guaranteeing him a spot in the starting XI for England in Brazil.
51 chances were created by the teenager last term, which saw five assists added to his name. Creativity in abundance, Sterling has an array of tools in his locker.
Luis Suarez may have taken 31 goals with him to sunny Spain, but young Sterling may step up and bring a whole load with him this summer.
Related Teams: Liverpool