Raheem Sterling will continue to flourish, says Brendan Rodgers

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Brendan Rodgers believes that Raheem Sterling can continue his good form whilst playing as a make-do striker.

The 20-year-old netted Liverpool's only goal during their 1-0 victory over Burnley on Boxing Day when latching onto Philippe Coutinho's through ball to seal the three points for his side.

The strike was Sterling's fourth goal of the Premier League campaign, taking him to the top of the Merseyside club's goal-table.

Despite being a natural wide-man, Rodgers has assigned the youngster with the task of leading the Reds' front-line of late, ahead of summer signings Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert.

And the Northern Irishman has been impressed by Sterling and believes he can continue his good form over the festive period and into the New Year.

"If I look at Raheem, his outcome last year in terms of goals and assists was probably where it's at - in and around 10 to 15 goals, and creating goals," Rodgers said during his pre-match press conference before meeting Swansea City on Monday Night.

"That's a very good return for him."

"He's a natural winger and if he gets those figures on a regular basis - between 10 and 15 goals a season, and assisting goals - then I think that's a very good number for him.

"You have other players that are out-and-out No.9s; he has shown, and his career will show as he matures even more, that he's got that ability.

"It was great composure [against Burnley] to get through on goal like that and beat the goalkeeper. Tom Heaton is a very good goalkeeper, so to get around him and finish like he did was really good composure and calmness from Raheem.

"I genuinely believe that he's got that ability to score. He is very instinctive when he goes through. His touch on the ball can be assured and it's something that he knows is part of his game - to create and score goals. He's doing very well at that.

"It's something that you can develop with confidence over the course of your career. I think you'll see his numbers improve and improve as his career goes on."

Suited Style

Since the ex-QPR man has been operate up-top, Liverpool have been able to use a different style of play.

The Reds were all about quickness, speed and the ability to hit on the counter-attack last season, however it had been virtually non-existent this term.

Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert are players who like to hold the ball up, knock it wide and get themselves in the box for a cross and slow the pace of the football down too often.

Sterling, on the other hand, loves to use his pace and get into gaps that will cause problems for defenders. His strike against the Clarets came when he darted in behind the back-four and managed to get on the end of Coutinho's pass.

Coutinho is a player who has very much benefited from Sterling playing as a striker. The England international drags defenders with him, creating space for the former Inter Milan man so he can either go on his own like his goal against Arsenal or play a through ball.

Back To The Wing

There's no doubt, however, that this is just a temporary position for Sterling.

Daniel Sturridge has been side-lined since early September and Rodgers' outfit have badly missed him. Sturridge is a true number nine with the ability to bury half-chances and be a true menace up-front.

Sterling has done superbly, but he is better being a provider than a goalscorer and does so when playing out wide so often, beating defenders and getting crosses into the box.

Sturridge has been badly missed by the Reds and netted 21 goals in the Premier League last term, more than any other player except former team-mate, Luis Suarez.

The 25-year-old played as a second fiddle to the Uruguayan last campaign and still managed a superb goal tally and Kopites feel he is the answer to Liverpool's goal problem.

Harsh Critics

Until Sturridge is fit, seemingly Sterling will continue his role as the furthest man forward.

Of late, the youngster has received criticism both from fans and the press for inconsistent performances.

But Rodgers feels that the youngster has been doing exceptionally well given his age and will continue to develop into one of Europe's elite prospects.

He deals with it so well. It's hard to hide the talent," Rodgers continued.

"If you have the talent, you're going to be under scrutiny; we protect the players as much as we can.

"I've seen him develop into a wonderful young man - he has got great maturity. I think back to the boy of 17 when I arrived here and I see him now and the maturity that he has and how he has taken it all into his stride.

"Of course, he's had difficult moments in there, but he's a real pleasure to work with. It's hard to hide that talent. When you're so good, people want to talk about you.

"The higher you climb the ladder, people want to criticise you more as well. I'm delighted to work with him and hopefully we can work together for a long time.

"He goes into each game to enjoy it and to play. He's still very young, with an enthusiasm and love of football. He's got no fear when he plays.

"He's had some criticism this year, which I find a little bit harsh, maybe that's because he wasn't scoring.

"But his contribution for us is a real catalyst for the team; his movement, pace and intelligence in how he presses the ball, especially since I moved him into that central role, has made a marked difference to the team."

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Raheem Sterling
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