BRENDAN RODGERS believes fatigue is responsible for Raheem Sterling’s dip in form – but says the Liverpool teenager should be proud of what he has achieved during his breakthrough season.
The 18-year-old winger, who has made 35 first-team appearances so far this term, has been taken out of the firing line in recent weeks and played for the under-21s in their defeat to Manchester United on Monday night.
Sterling made a huge impact after Rodgers handed him his full Premier League debut against Manchester City back in August.
He went on to make 16 successive league starts and his eye-catching contribution was rewarded with a first England cap and a new five-year contract at Anfield.
However, since the turn of the year the demands of top flight football have taken their toll and Sterling hasn’t started in the league since last month’s trip to Old Trafford.
“This is a kid we’re talking about so we have to take a wee step back,” said boss Rodgers, who has carefully overseen the teenager’s development.
“What he’s done since he stepped onto the pitch against Leverkusen in a friendly to Manchester City, as a 17-year-old, I dare you to look around Europe and tell me a 17-year-old who has made an impact in one of the big leagues. There aren’t many.
“It is so mentally and physically draining this league. It hurts experienced professionals and this boy has just stepped up from the Academy and played football and earned a contract off that.
“We have to nurture that and at times he’s got to have that mentality to keep learning. I was talking to him the other day about this, and if he didn’t kick another ball this season he’s had a good one.
“It’s just a very physically demanding league and what you’re seeing now is more tiredness of the legs when before he could go up to people and take them on. That zip has gone and that’s down to fatigue. Was that that to be expected? Yes it was.”
Having previously made such serene progress and been showered with plaudits, Sterling (left) is now facing the first real test of his Anfield career.
His confidence has clearly been dented but Rodgers has no doubts that the youngster will bounce back strongly.
“Raheem will have experienced that before but not in the limelight nationally that it is now,” he added.
“He’s made such an impact that everyone is looking at him now of course. But the job is to nurture him.
“He’s started his career at first team level way before many get the opportunity. “He’s still got lots of improvement to make in his game. Over the years we will look at his plan and development and act accordingly.”