13 August 2014 01:11
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers compared Raheem Sterling’s form to that of Lionel Messi, on the brink of the Premier League season.
Sterling scored in pre-season clashes against Manchester City and Olympiacos in the Reds’ International Champions Cup campaign in the United States.
The teenager’s off-season has been virtually non-existent after appearing in all three of England’s games at the World Cup in Brazil, as Roy Hodgson’s men bowed out of the campaign winless.
But Rodgers said Sterling showed his class in the USA, and is developing into a player who fans will want to watch – ala three-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi.
“Something we said to Raheem when he first broke into the team and something we’ve reiterated is that you have to have an identity as a player,” Rodgers said.
“His identity is he has to score goals and create goals. That’s what the job is. He scored 10 goals last year and this kid is only going to get better.
“When you look at the finish against Manchester City in New York, how many times have we seen Messi produce a touch like that? Taking it through bodies when it’s so tight in the box.
“Raheem’s feet were so soft and his finish was great, as was the one, which was disallowed for offside, just after.
“The great thing with watching him now is that he gets you off your seat. When he gets the ball you think ‘something could happen here’.”
Rodgers said the evidence was damning that Sterling’s progression would come, with Premier League champions City putting plenty of time into pressuring him in their pre-season friendly at Yankee Stadium.
“There was a moment in the game against City when he got the ball on the left hand side,” Rodgers said.
“He had Gael Clichy coming to press him, he had Jesus Navas coming back to press him and a midfield player coming across to try to block the space on the inside.
“For teams to have that fear of him as a young player shows his development. There is still work for him to do but he knows that and is a really good boy, who is developing.”
Rodgers said Sterling’s youth has not restricted him from understanding his place in the Anfield set-up, as they prepare to launch a Premier League assault.
“When you’re so young, it’s important to understand exactly what your role is. Not just look good, you have to be efficient and effective,” the former Swansea boss said.
“His development has gone to a new level. He’s way above the level from when he first came in both tactically and technically.
“And what has been beautiful to watch with Raheem has been his maturity. He’s turning into a beautiful young man.
“He’s taking it all in his stride and now he’s in a good place with every part of his game. It’s just about maintaining that commitment to his work. He’s still only 19 but in big games he’s performed and he’s a wonderful talent.”
Liverpool host Southampton on Sunday to open their league campaign.