Liverpool vs Aston Villa: Raheem Sterling 'needs protection', says Brendan Rodgers

The Liverpool manager says the youngster still has much to learn

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The Independent Football

Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling needs protecting, not putting on a pedestal as England's next great hope, according to manager Brendan Rodgers.

The talented 19-year-old has enjoyed a stellar nine months since regaining a place in the starting line-up, becoming one of the Reds' stand-out performers and playing in his first World Cup.

Sterling has maintained that progress this season with his club, scoring twice in three matches, while also impressing in his last two matches for the national side.

However, Rodgers, who already has an issue with England over the injury which has ruled out striker Daniel Sturridge for up to three weeks, stressed the youngster should not be over-burdened with expectation.

"I think he needs protection. I have seen it over the years," he said.

"He is a wonderful talent, he is doing great for Liverpool but there are still a lot of things he needs to learn and he knows that and is a mature boy for his age.

"He has grown into a wonderful young man and his consistency and performances are there and the period he has been in the team has been exceptional

"I expect him to keep progressing but in terms of where he is at I think we need to be careful.

"You see so many players where there is a reliance on them - especially with England who, for whatever reason tend to look for one player to put up on a pedestal and very quickly knock him down.

"Raheem will make mistakes, he will have bad games but he will also have outstanding games and it is keeping the calmness with him because he still has a way to go.

"He is certainly performing at a real high and consistent level.

"England know as well as anyone they need a team so they don't have to focus just on Raheem.

"It has to be the team and that will always the winner for England when they come together and they were excellent against Switzerland (in their 2-0 Euro 2016 qualifying victory) as a team."

 

Rodgers will hope Sterling will again provide the attacking edge for his side against Aston Villa on Saturday in the absence of Sturridge.

There will be greater focus on summer signing Mario Balotelli, who makes his home debut after a promising hour last time out against Tottenham, but Rodgers has to decide whom replaces his injured striker.

Rickie Lambert, bought from Southampton for £4million at the end of last season, has made two brief substitute appearances and Rodgers' vision was for him to be able to make an impact off the bench.

However, it may come down to a choice between him and a tweaking of the system to accommodate another new signing Lazar Markovic.

"Rickie has been very good since he came in," said Rodgers.

"He has mostly had an impact from the bench and you see even with England the other night when he came on he showed good ability to play a great weighted pass for Danny Welbeck to score.

"He is working very well and if he doesn't get a start he will certainly start against Middlesbrough in the (Capital One) cup so his game time will come - but at the moment he is playing a great supporting role from the bench."

One player who is still some way off settling for a supporting role is captain Steven Gerrard, who thanks to his international retirement has been able to enjoy a rest during the recent break.

"After 14 years it was his first international break and it was great for him," said Rodgers.

"I gave him an extra few days off to recover knowing we have a real busy schedule coming up over these next couple of months but he looks after himself ever so well, a great professional."

Rodgers has had his difficulties at Anfield against Saturday's opponents, taking just a point from his two previous encounters, so he is well aware of what awaits.

"We deservedly lost in my first season and then we started slowly last season and showed real character to draw the game (having trailed 2-0).

"They have started well and I am pleased for Paul (Lambert) because a few years ago when he went in there he looked towards building a young group of players and the first season was difficult.

"But they have developed and grown and got better and this season will see them and their young players - and the faith they put in them - bear fruit."

PA

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