Raheem Sterling is 19 and already a key member of Liverpool's first-team squad. Although last year he burst onto the scene with some very impressive performances, only this year have we seen exactly what Sterling threatens to become.
After becoming the third youngest player in the senior side to ever pull on a Liverpool jersey at the age of 17, Sterling began his ascent to the first team as a pacey but erratic winger.
Last year, as a quick and crafty player with an eye for goal, he surprised defences with long runs through the midfield and down the flanks. However, that eye for goal led to poor shot selection and moments that left the Liverpool faithful with their hands on their heads. As the season progressed and opposing teams learned about his playing style, Sterling's confidence suffered and his opportunities declined.
This year Sterling has developed his game, spacing defences and improving his efficiency and accuracy when shooting at goal. His improved decision-making has even allowed Brendan Rodgers to play him through the middle - right behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge - from time-to-time.
With his improved decision making and ability to slash through defences, Sterling is much like a young Theo Walcott. Although Walcott has more strength and is more attacking-minded, their mentality while on the ball is very similar. Both love to run at defences and score on the counter attack after being sprung free by through balls. Both also have the ability to both go outside and inside and play on either side.
The young age at which both broke onto the international scene is also similar. The two young English wingers were set up at large clubs and poised for success. When they received opportunities, both impressed with goals and pace.
Just as Sterling had to improve his shooting in order to get more first-team opportunities, Walcott had to as well. After proving his talents in front of goal, defences forced Walcott to pass and cross more, improving his assist totals. The same phenomenon could very well happen to Sterling, who still needs to improve his crossing and final ball to increase his assist total.
Although there are discrepancies in strength and defensive work rate, Sterling is very much a young Walcott. Both started as strict wingers before taking their games inside. As we continue to watch the development of Sterling, expect to see an increase in his assist tallies as defences work to force him to pass instead of shoot. As he becomes an even more talented and smarter footballer, Sterling can develop into a player like Walcott and help keep the Liverpool attack at the top of the league.
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