Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Sterling enjoying encouraging input

Raheem Sterling, left, has started 18 of Liverpool's 20 matches since December 1

Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling believes the guidance of manager Brendan Rodgers and captain Steven Gerrard has played a major part in his re-emergence this season.

The 19-year-old's form since returning to prominence in the first team appears to have catapulted him into England manager Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad.

Sterling has started 18 of Liverpool's 20 matches since December 1 and his seven goals this campaign is by far his best return in three seasons with the first team.

The England international's performances appear to have come full circle as he began the 2012-13 season in stunning form but that tailed off and he did not play again after March last year.

Sterling was a bit-part player in the early months of the current campaign, so much so it seemed likely he would go out on loan in January, but he has fought his way back into the reckoning and Sterling puts a lot of that down to Rodgers and Gerrard.

"I couldn't ask for a better captain," the forward said of Gerrard.

"Before every game he is helping me in terms of what player I am up against and to have someone like that to encourage you is great."

Rodgers has carefully managed Sterling, working on his confidence, and the side is reaping the benefits.

"He was trying to get me settled off the pitch and on it he was telling me to be more at home and be more relaxed on the ball and express myself and that has really helped me," he told the Barclays Premier League Podcast.

"He has made me realise I am here on merit and I'm not just here because of what I've done in the youth teams.

"When you are training with Gerrard and (Luis) Suarez it is a bit nerve-wracking but after a while you get used to it and you start being yourself and start expressing yourself.

"I think like I am getting into that zone where I feel I can express myself to the fullest, not be shy and come out of my shell and it has really helped me.

"I am really settled and really happy to be in the team."

Sterling has slotted back into the side well and appears to have developed a good on-field relationship with Suarez in particular.

And with the Uruguay international and his fellow England striker Daniel Sturridge providing such a goalscoring threat, it has helped Sterling's development.

"With those two you can get a lot of goals but I'm just happy to be part of the team and working to help the team but those two up front are really a joy to play with," he added.

"Most games we go into we try to attack with every movement but at the weekend (the 3-0 win at Manchester United) I thought we played tactically well."

Second-placed Liverpool are on course to secure a return to the Champions League but have one eye on winning the title as they are only four points behind leaders Chelsea with a match in hand.

"We just go into the next game and take it step by step, not saying we will win the league," Sterling said.

"Hopefully we will be where we want to be at the end of the season, which is right up there at the top of the table."

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