HOW do you solve a problem like Raheem Sterling? It’s a luxury that other clubs dream of — and by no means is it Liverpool’s biggest problem right now — but seeing him shunted around the football field so often by Brendan Rodgers this year has created a sense of doubt. Doubt surrounding where on the pitch he should be stationed; about where you get the best out of the precociously talented 20 year-old and about where he can do the best job for the team.
Currently the latter strand has dominated the former. They shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but right now they are. You’d think the position where he can perform at his maximum would be the ultimate priority for Rodgers, but so well coached in his reading of the game is Sterling now that he has become a victim of versatility. The system Liverpool play and the style they use requires this — square pegs filling round holes all over the pitch — and Sterling is the grandest exponent.
It points in part to the fragility of the club’s resurgence since Christmas that the new system — the 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 is still heavily reliant on the personnel that fill the key positions. It needs ball-playing centre-halves — not you, Dejan — it punishes wing-backs who don’t have the engine of a Rolls Royce and relies on intricate one-or-two touch play, pace and incessant movement high up the pitch. It’s as demanding as it gets for a football team.
Within this set-up Sterling has regularly plugged holes in positions where others can’t be trusted by Rodgers. He’s been deployed up front, as one of the two behind the striker and in the wing-back areas — sometimes within the same 90 minutes — and it’s had Liverpool fans wondering where his true position really lies.