Stoke City v Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers admits Raheem Sterling has responded 'brilliantly' to stick he received from the Reds' manager
Sterling has had a number issues off the field but a long run in the team is reaping its rewards
Saturday 11 January 2014
Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling has had a number of ups and downs under Brendan Rodgers but the manager's tough line with the teenager now seems to be paying dividends.
The Reds boss admits he has given the 19-year-old "a bit of stick" in the last 18 months but the youngster has responded well and seems to have rediscovered the form which took the Premier League by storm at the start of last season.
In Rodgers' first pre-season in charge one of the few memorable moments of the 'Being Liverpool' documentary was the manager's swift rebuke of the youngster who appeared to question his authority.
That did not stop the manager giving Sterling a long run in the side which led to his senior England debut, only for injury and a dip in form to see him not feature at all in April and May.
Sterling had a number of off-field issues to deal with in 2013, including being found not guilty of assaulting an ex-girlfriend, and he found first-team chances were limited at the start of the current campaign.
But injury to striker Daniel Sturridge opened the door again and the teenager has started the last nine matches, scoring three times but more importantly showing a resurgence in his overall play.
"He's been outstanding, brilliant, and has played really well in some big games," said Rodgers.
"In other games he was very prominent. I think you've seen what he can give to the team when he's really focused.
"He's in a good moment now. He's happy and really focused on his football and he's consistently producing.
"I've been really pleased for him because he's a good kid. He's taken a bit of stick from me since I've come in here but it's always been in the best interest of him and the club."
After breaking into the England squad last season Sterling has not featured since making his debut in the 4-2 friendly defeat to Sweden in November 2012.
However, injury to Theo Walcott opens up a World Cup place for right-sided attacker and Sterling could fit the bill having continued his development for the Under-21s.
Rodgers has warned the youngster not to think too far ahead, though.
"I'm sure the England people and staff will be looking at that," said Rodgers.
"Raheem's obviously one of the outstanding talents in the under-21 team. (Walcott's injury) certainly opens up a door.
"But all he can do is concentrate on his Liverpool career and everything else follows that.
"He's played nine games now on the spin and been excellent in them, so hopefully he can continue that run of form and do his job, which is to score goals and create goals."
Sterling has been asked to perform different roles since returning to the side, regularly switching flanks and even occasionally filling in at full-back.
Rodgers is impressed with how the youngster has developed.
"I know some people were looking at me when I stuck him at right-back early on a few times but I think you see now, whenever he does play in that position, what he can give you, both going forward and defensively," he added.
"He's probably one of the strongest players I've ever seen. Pound for pound, he's as strong as anyone.
"You marry that strength and his quality and his focus, and then you've got a young player who has just turned 19, who is going to be an outstanding prospect."
Liverpool head to Stoke on Sunday - where captain Steven Gerrard is set become only the seventh Liverpool player to reach 650 appearances - looking to register their first Premier League win at the Britannia after two draws and three defeats.
"It's a difficult place to get a result and Liverpool's record there hasn't been so good," said Rodgers.
"We weren't very good there last year (losing 3-1), it's as simple as that."
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