After the 3-0 loss at West Brom, a Liverpool fan could’ve been forgiven for thinking that defending champions Manchester City would march on to Anfield, wallop the Reds, and leave Merseyside ensuring that the Reds would’ve suffered their worst league start since 1959, when the legendary Bill Shankly lost his first two league games in-charge of Liverpool.
One could’ve been forgiven for thinking that the depressingly pedestrian Stewart Downing would inexplicably maintain his spot in the starting line-up. In truth, no one expected Brendan Rodgers to hand the 17-year old prodigy Raheem Sterling his first ever Premier League start against Manchester City of all opponents. Heads turned, minds boggled and the wisdom of Rodgers was questioned. What the hell was he exactly thinking? Their opponents were the champions, the same team that thrashed Man United 6-1 last season.
The move didn’t show any encouraging signs in the early stages, as City grew into the game, culminating with that miss from Tevez, which had Roberto Mancini jumping around like a maniacal lunatic. Sterling announced his presence in the game with a scintillating turn past the dumbfounded Kolo Toure to whip in a scintillating, threatening ball to Fabio Borini that just missed the near post.
Anfield sat up and took notice. So did Mancini and City. Sterling proceeded to give Toure a torrid time, something that Downing could’ve never hoped to accomplish. Sterling displayed it all – skill, pace, and trickery. He constantly got under Toure’s skin, resulting in the big Ivorian using his physicality to subdue the boy wonder. Establishing a telepathic understanding with the marauding Glen Johnson, Sterling played the system that Rodgers wants to implement at Liverpool to perfection. He also constantly hampered the energetic James Milner, nullifying his threat along with Johnson, which enabled the right-back to get forward more often than not.
His defensive side was understandably novice-like, as a silly foul on Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez absolutely destroyed the youngster after he was exposed by Johnson, which led to City’s first goal in the 63rd minute. Nevertheless he’s only 17-years-old, and will learn through experience. The right-wing slot could be his spot for well over a decade in this Liverpool line-up, if he continuously exhibits such exemplary form, which belies his tender age and speaks volumes of his footballing maturity.
Sterling has always been labelled ‘one for the future’ ever since Rafael Benitez signed him from QPR in 2010. He has been hyped up extensively, more than he would care to read. He’s English after all. Brendan Rodgers claimed it was an ‘easy’ decision to start Sterling, and based on his pre-season performances, and his performances for Liverpool youth’s side (remember the five goals against Southend United in February 2011?), it is easy to see why. Downing will now forever be on the outside looking in, as the likes of Nuri Sahin and Oussama Assaidi look to make his presence at Liverpool redundant, alongside the precocious Sterling. Looks like Charlie Adam doesn’t have a future at Liverpool too (he didn’t make the match day squad), and Jordan Henderson is still young and can develop his abilities.
Sterling’s work-rate should be noted too. Toure and Milner suffered badly, and Carlos Tevez exchanged shirts with the youngster at the end. An ultimate show of respect from one of the game’s current greats (despite his off-field antics).
England’s future is looking bright, with the likes of Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling ready to step in for the much vaunted ‘Golden Generation’. The boy has to be protected. He cannot (should not) play for 25 games this season, or he will suffer the same fate as Wilshere. Let us not hype him to the moon. Let us instead play the likes of Sahin and Assaidi regularly, and regularly give Sterling starts every now and then.
Liverpool need him, and England will eventually need him too.
A star was born at Anfield yesterday.