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The rise and 'stall' of Raheem Sterling


Raheem Sterling started his career in the Queens Park Rangers academy, joining at just 10 years old. He quickly became one of the highest rated teenagers in the country. In February 2010, Sterling was signed by Liverpool for a reported £600,000. Rumours would suggest that appearance based add-ons could take that fee to £5,000,000. This means that in Sterling (who was just 15 when he was signed) Liverpool took a relatively large gamble. There was a high chance he could fade into obscurity before he even got anywhere near the first team. His rise through the Liverpool Academy was absolutely incredible though. He began jumping age groups year after year and it wasn't long until he found himself not only a regular, but the star of the reserves. Along the way he put in a string of man of the match performances, but perhaps the most incredible was his torturing of Southend's youth side. Sterling scored 5 of Liverpool's goals in a 9-0 demolition, in the FA youth cup.

By 2012 there wasn't many Liverpool fans who hadn't heard of the star surging through their teams Academy. Expectations were high, but Sterling's determination was higher. On the 24th of March that year, Sterling made his debut off the bench in a Premier League game against Wigan Athletic, and his pace made it instantly obvious he would go on to be a dangerous player. He showed a lack of composure when he lashed a volley wide from 15 yards and a reasonably tight angle, but it was clear to all that the potential was there. He made two more cameos that season against Fulham and Chelsea. The man who gave him his first chance, Kenny Dalglish, went on to leave the club that summer. He was replaced by perhaps the most important man in Sterling's career to date, Brendan Rodgers. Many of the old guard were shipped out in what looked like a naive yet cost effective move. However, perhaps Rodgers had already seen something in Sterling that had made up his mind? Sterling was a regular in the pre-season games, but nobody really expected him to become a regular in competitive games. I was actually fortunate enough to be at Anfield when Sterling scored his first ever goal for the senior side. We played Bayer Leverkusen in a friendly. The game had barely even begun when Sterling went tearing down the left flank. Dinking inside past 2 defenders, he unleashed a curling effort beyond the Leverkusen goalkeeper, right in the far side of the goal. The stadium erupted! The young winger from QPR had finally given us all a taste of what was to come. Liverpool won the friendly 3-1 in the end with the other goals coming from Andy Carroll and Lucas Leiva. Sidney Sam scored a consolation for the visitors. Sterling's goal was largely over shadowed unfortunately by the fact that the game marked Sami Hyypia's first return to Anfield since he'd left, albeit it as a manger rather than a player. For those who followed the Academy though, the excitement was just beginning.

The 2012/13 season kicked off and Sterling (surprisingly for the fans) found himself in the starting eleven! He immediately began to dazzle. Tearing defences apart with his astonishing pace, the only thing he seemed to lack, was a consistent finishing touch; be that a cross, a pass or a shot. He scored a brilliant goal against Reading, drilling a low shot into the far corner that eventually turned out to be the winner in a scrappy 1-0 win. He began jumping age groups on the international scene next, moving first into the U21's team, and then making his senior England debut in a friendly against Sweden on the 14th of November. His brilliant displays made him a wanted man in English football. With the January Window fast approaching, rumours began regarding his future at the club. Thankfully on December the 21st, shortly after his Birthday, Sterling signed his first professional contract for the club, and committed his future to Liverpool FC. His second goal against Sunderland was even better than his first. Bursting clear of the defence, he perfectly lofted the ball over the onrushing Simon Mingolet. That game finished 3-0 in the end, but Sterling took the headlines. Sterling added a further 6 assists to his 2 goals that season, and although his return was relatively low, this is a 17/18 year old we are talking about. He was even shortlisted for the 2012 'European Golden Boy award'. Unfortunately, then came a slight 'fall' from grace. His lack of maturity started to show, and Sterling began getting into trouble off the field. Problems with the police brought his personal life under the microscope. Untrue rumours started circulating about the number of children he had. It had a noticeable effect on his quality on the pitch. It was all very harsh in my opinion for such a young guy to be scrutinised for every little thing. Nobody ever mentioned the charity work he did for Jamaican schools. However he began to look tired and drained. The pacey winger full of flair that fans had just started getting used to, faded away into a weak link in the side. To be fair to him, by the time he saw himself dropped from the team he had made 24 appearances at a very young age. He was subsequently rested for the remainder of the season, and replaced by a resurgent Stewart Downing, who not only took his place, but then began to outperform him (but don't forget Downing is over a decade older). Although it would be harsh to call it a 'fall', it is certainly not unreasonable to call it a 'stall'. The rise had curtailed and the hype began to die down.

Now we know the story, let's look at Sterling statistically and in more depth as to what type of player he is. Standing at just 1.70m tall, Sterling is relatively short in stature. At 18 years old, it is unlikely he will grow much more. He is predominantly right footed, but more so in his Academy years, he did display a decent enough ability on his weaker foot. He can certainly use both feet when dribbling, but tends to rely on his right for things like passing and shooting. I'm going to do a statistical break down on each season he has appeared in so far. These are stats based only on Premier League games.

Sterling made 3 appearances that season, all as a substitute against Wigan, Fulham and Chelsea. What did he show in these 3 cameos though, that got the Liverpool fans excited? We will focus on the relevant stats initially (so those that matter to attackers). He only played 25 minutes. However he attempted 15 passes in that time, with an 86.7% completion rate. That's very impressive for someone so young, as it's easy to panic in that situation. Amongst his 15 passes, were 9 attempted passes in the opposition half, of which he completed 6. He also attempted 4 crosses, finding a Liverpool player once to give him a 25% successful cross ratio. He created 2 goal scoring opportunities in total. Neither ended up in the net so he didn't claim and assist, but he showed that creative spark. He did draw 2 fouls from the opposition, which shows how tricky he is to dispossess. He registered 2 shots, of which neither were on target so inevitably did not score. However a wise man once said "Aye, Roger Hunt misses a few, but he gets in the right place to miss them". Despite being a keen runner in behind, he was not a web site, so he showed promising ability with regards to timing his runs. One thing that made Sterling a fan favourite was his work rate though. He tracked back to help out a fair bit, and although he made no tackles, he did win 3 out of 5 duels, giving him a 60% duel success rate. A duel is basically a 50/50 loose ball situation, and the winner is rather obviously the one who comes out with the ball. He was not involved in any aerial duels though. Although he made no clearances, blocks or interceptions, he did not give away a single foul, and avoided any disciplinary action from the ref. His desire was shown though in the 2 recoveries he made. A recovery is essentially just a situation where the player loses the ball, but then wins possession back for his team. That was about it really, so although Sterling made little impact on results, he showed promise enough to make an impact on the fans.

This was Sterling's breakthrough season, making the stats a much more interesting read. He made 19 starts and was subbed on 5 times for a total of 1748 minutes played. In that time he completed 718 passes. Although his overall pass completion was slightly lower than the previous season at 84.5%, his pass completion in the opposition half raised to 77.7%. That's quite a drastic improvement attack wise, which perhaps shows how his confidence and composure was growing. He continued to draw fouls from defenders, winning Liverpool 54 free kicks with his quick feet. He even added a couple of goals as previously mentioned, giving him a goal every 874 minutes. He registered 23 shots that year, of which 10 were on target. That's a 45.5% accuracy rate. That is a little low, but is to be expected of a young forward. Where he really fell down was his crossing ability. He attempted 51 in total and completed just 7. That's only a 13.7% success rate. He tended to be better when he cut inside and created a chance from there. He created 37 chances in total for the side, and added 6 assists (this is including rebounds and direct free kicks won). Had he been supplying someone a little more clinical than Suarez, he may have seen more added to that tally. As is to be expected with much increased game time, he was a web site 6 times. For the amount of runs in behind he made though, that is not bad at all. He continued his excellent work rate for a large part of his game time though. He won 144 duels out of 330. Although that is a decreased 43.6% success rate, it was over a larger period of time so is perhaps a more accurate representation of his aggression. He won 4 out of 24 aerial duels, which isn't bad for a fairly short player. The most surprising defensive statistic here is his tackling. He completed 34 out of 40 tackles, giving him an 85% success rate! So whilst he lacked a slight bit of aggression in the 50/50 challenges, he was very good at dispossessing opponents in the tackle. His pace probably aided him here as it's very difficult to get around someone who is quicker than you. Although he still failed to make a single block, he did make 5 clearances and more importantly for Rodgers pressing game, 15 interceptions. He did make 28 fouls that season, but was only booked once. None of his tackles were dangerous at all, and he is certainly not a dirty player. Some of the free kicks were in silly places, but that is to be expected with young players keen to impress. His brilliant determination to impress had its bonuses though, with him completing 103 recoveries. When he lost the ball, you could see he wanted it back.

Sterling has made just 3 substitute appearances so far, totalling in 57 minutes. He has attempted 17 passes in that time with an 82% completion rate. His completion rate in the oppositions half though has shot up to 90%. He hasn't created a single chance yet though, so perhaps he is playing a bit safer. With no attempted crosses either, it looks that way. However, it is harsh to judge Sterling on these stats, as he has come on all 3 times into a game that we had lost control of. As a team we have been very poor in the second half of games. He has still been his tricky self though, winning 2 free kicks for the team. Although he is yet to register a league goal, his only shot was on target so it gives him a rather distorted 100% shot accuracy. That will obviously fall as the season goes on, but hopefully he will improve his decision making as he does tend to shoot too often from range, and when he is off balance. He has no assists either, partially due to his lack of creativity so far and partially down to our defensive tactics late on. He's not been a web site yet, although I cannot remember him making a run in behind so far due to how deep we are sitting in the second half. Defensively, he has remained fairly consistent. Winning 5 out of 13 duels at a 38.5% success rate, he has not really improved or gotten any worse in this department. He has lost his only aerial duel, but again that is to be expected from a small winger. He has maintained his desire making 2 recoveries already, and his tackling prowess has not wavered with him making 4 tackles in total at a 100% success rate! He has not made any blocks or interceptions yet, but has managed 2 clearances. One area he does seem to have gotten worse in is his fouls conceded. In the short game time he's had, he's conceded 4 fouls, one of which was in a very dangerous area against Swansea. I personally put this down to how keen he is to impress though and break back into the side. He wants to be seen as the versatile player he is, and prove he can get stuck in with the big guys. He has been very much an impact sub in the league so far though.

Whilst Sterling was missing for the latter part of last season, Henderson imposed himself on the starting eleven, and Coutinho and Sturridge came in. Now Moses, Aspas and Alberto have been added as well. All this meant that Sterling started this season as a squad player. However outside of his league cameos, we have seen a bit of the old Sterling re-emerging. He scored a goal in pre-season, and opened the scoring against Notts County in the league cup with a powerful run through the middle past two defenders, before smashing the ball past the keeper who couldn't hold the shot. Even more impressive though, was his performance in the recent U21's reserve team game. Liverpool found themselves a man down mid-way through the second half, but before half time, they were already losing 2-0. After Kelly combined with Dunn, allowing Dunn to claw one back, it very much turned into the 'Sterling show' for the second half. Kelly moved into a centre back role alongside newcomer Tiago Ilori (who also played very well). Sterling was then shifted to a right wing back role, and he made it his own. Before his positional switch, he made a driving run down the left though, latching onto an Alberto through ball, before cutting it back to Alberto for a first time finish into the net (assist 1). Jordan Ibe then drove down the right side, before cutting back perfectly for Sterling who somehow scrambled the ball over the line (goal 1). Shortly after, Lloyd Jones was dismissed, and Sterling was shifted to the right wing back role. The next goal involved an uncharacteristic pass from Sterling from his uncharacteristic position. He drilled a brilliant diagonal pass over the top for Luis Alberto who controlled well, then beautifully took it around the keeper, before tamely shooting into the retreating Sunderland defender. Luckily for Alberto, the ball bounced up kindly for him to head home from a tight angle (assist 2). The final goal was all about Sterling though, he drove forward brilliantly from the right back position, and then showed incredible pace and agility to squeeze in between two Sunderland defenders. He knocked the ball around the keeper only to be wiped out by him, in what I can only describe as the most stone wall penalty you will ever see. Sterling allowed Alberto to take the penalty thus completing his hattrick (assist 3). The game ended 5-2 to Liverpool. It was a brilliant game from Sterling, complimented by a very good game from Alberto.

Sterling's key strengths are; pace, agility, energy/pressing, desire to succeed, his dribbling ability, his ability to beat a man, drawing fouls from opposition defenders and his ability to create chances. He is also a good finisher, but needs to find some composure. His key weaknesses are; height, strength, consistency, decision making and crossing. He will obviously never be a tall player, but if he could work on his strength on the ball, find a consistency to his play, learn when to release the ball and whether to shoot or pass, he could be very good for Liverpool. It'd be nice to see him become more effective with his crossing as well. I think he has very good potential, and whilst he will probably never reach the level of the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, he could very easily become a fast and effective attacking outlet, much in the 'Walcott' mould. Like Walcott, don't be surprised if in 3-5 years time Sterling is regularly hitting double figures in both league goals and assists. For now though, he needs patience from the fans, and more importantly support.

With Coutinho now out injured, and Suarez still banned for the next game against Southampton, we might just see Sterling play a part in this game, and maybe he can pick up where he left off and carry on rising.


Enter your comments

12 October 2013
A good read but what do you mean then you say web site? I agree with a lot of what was said but he really needs to use his head a bit more and improve his creativity, that will come with time though. Maybe he can improve his technique and finishing if he wants to become a regular starter but the fact that an 18 year old has already made so many appearances sums up his ability and potential. I hope he doesn't become one of those "headless chicken" players like welbeck or to an extent walcott because he can be so much better.