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Premier League

Raheem Sterling the new Lionel Messi? Brendan Rodgers says Liverpool youngster reminds him of Barcelona great

Sterling has been in excellent form during pre-season

Raheem Sterling's brilliant pre-season form has Brendan Rodgers comparing him to Barcelona No 10 Lionel Messi.

The Liverpool manager believes the teenage winger can improve on his form from last season where the 19-year-old scored 10 goals to force himself into Roy Hodgson’s England side at the World Cup.

Sterling was a lone bright spark during England's miserable tournament in Brazil and was Liverpool’s best player in the International Champions Cup in the US, scoring twice in three matches and playing well despite a 3-1 defeat to rivals Manchester United in the final.

“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.”

Sterling has some way to go before he replicates Messi's form - the Argentine was criticised last season after 'only' scoring 41 goals in 46 matches - but Sterling has similar qualities to Messi.

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“Raheem’s feet were so soft and his finish was great, as was the one which was disallowed for offside just after,” added the Northern Irishman.

“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’.”

Liverpool play Southampton in their opening game of the season on Sunday, with former Saints trio Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert likely to play against their former side.

After the £75m loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, Rodgers is expecting the likes of Sterling, and Daniel Sturridge, to fill the void left by the Uruguayan star.

“There was a moment in the game against City when he got the ball on the left hand side,” Rodgers said.8Raheem-Sterling.jpg

“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.

“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.

“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.”