A lot can change in a year. In April 2014 Liverpool were flying up the table and in the thick of an eleven game winning run that saw them come excruciatingly close to an inaugural Premier League title. Their stupendously talented front three of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and young Raheem Sterling were knocking in goals for fun, blowing teams away with powerful and fast-paced attacking play.
However, fast forward twelve months and things are rather different around Anfield. Liverpool have once again improved after Christmas, but face an uphill struggle to return to the Champions League. Luis Suarez has left for richer pastures in Barcelona, inspirational captain Steven Gerrard is out of form and on his way out of the club and Raheem Sterling, the former teenage darling of the Kop, is stalling over signing a new contract.
It is hard to discern what is going on in Sterling’s head at the moment. In an ill-judged interview on Wednesday, Sterling claimed he was not a “money-grabbing 20-year-old” and that he wants to win as many trophies in his career as possible. Whilst these reasons seem fair, he also admitted he had turned down a £100,000 per-week deal with the Anfield club, angering many Liverpool fans. He also admitted he would have jumped at the chance to sign such a deal this time last year, adding further fuel to a fire that could become a major issue. Liverpool fans have mostly taken the interview in the opposite way to Sterling’s intentions, and their famous loyalty is starting to be tested by Sterling’s stance. So what next for Liverpool’s most promising talent?
Well for the immediate future, seemingly nothing: Brendan Rodgers has come out stating that Sterling is going nowhere. His current deal does not expire until 2017 and Liverpool are under no pressure to sell. There has been rumoured interest from Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea from within the Premier League and also Real Madrid and Bayern Munich from outside.
Should one of the big English clubs try and come in for Sterling, it is likely that owner John W. Henry will take a similar stance to the one he took in rejecting Arsenal’s infamously cheeky forty million and one pound bid for Luis Suarez two years ago. Liverpool will not sell one of their most promising players to their closest rivals, certainly not when they are under no financial pressure to do so.
If Sterling were to fall completely out of favour with Liverpool fans or demand to leave this summer, the only real option for him would be to head abroad, with European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich supposedly monitoring the situation. Whilst Sterling is certainly a supremely talented player, he would struggle to find his way into either of these teams starting line-ups: at Bayern he will hardly usurp the likes of Robben, Ribery, Müller and Götze in the attacking midfield positions, whilst Real have the likes of Ronaldo, Bale and Isco spearheading their midfield. Sterling is not quite ready to step up to one of Europe’s big clubs, maybe in two or three years time, but not now, which would make moving abroad an unlikely option.
So Liverpool won’t sell to a rival, and Sterling is not ready for a place at one of Europe’s top clubs yet, therefore staying where he is remains the best option for him. But is it really the best option for Liverpool? Whilst Sterling is a fine player, one that they consider themselves very lucky to have in their team, Sterling is far from indispensable from the line-up. Sterling has spent much of the season filling in up front for Daniel Sturridge, who when fit will be automatic first choice up front on account of his vastly superior finishing ability compared to Sterling.
Sterling’s best position is arguably just behind the striker, where he performed so brilliantly for the Reds at the end of the previous campaign. However, their player of the season Philippe Coutinho and £25 million signing Adam Lallana seem to have these positions nailed down on account of their creativity and control, which has left Sterling out at right wing back. This is probably Sterling’s least effective role in Liverpool’s current 3-4-2-1 formation, and is apparently part of the reason for this contract saga. With Jordon Ibe impressing in this position before he picked up an injury in the Europa League, and Lazar Markovic also performing admirably there earlier in the season. Furthermore, Ibe and Markovic are 19 and 21 respectively, virtually the same age as Sterling. Should he choose to leave, Liverpool will have no problem finding a direct replacement for him with these two potential stars in the squad and performing so impressively.
Despite Sterling’s difficult stance, Liverpool actually have more control over the situation than is thought. Whilst they would much rather tie Sterling down and keep him in the team for as long as possible, hence the lucrative contract offers, the Reds are in a very strong position. They have no need to sell, and will definitely not let Sterling go to one of their Premier League rivals. Should Sterling move abroad, they would most likely receive a fee somewhere in the region of £40 to £50 million, and all of this for a player who is far from indispensable to Liverpool’s line-up.
Sterling is currently at a club who appreciate his talent and wish to keep him. Liverpool are a young side who appear to be building a positive team under Brendan Rodgers, with young players such as Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho and Jordon Ibe constantly improving and developing the side, Liverpool are on an upward trend that Raheem Sterling would benefit from being part of. At the age of 20 he would struggle to get into one of Europe’s top sides, so staying with Liverpool where he is a certain starter would probably prove to be the best move for him. Should he choose to move on, though, Liverpool have enough talent coming through to be able to cope with his loss, with an expensive sale would benefit the Reds finances significantly. Sterling has tried to take control of the situation with a strong stance on his contract, but whether he stays or goes, Liverpool will deal with it comfortably. They hold all the cards and have very little to lose in this situation, but if this continues to drag on unresolved, it could cause Raheem Sterling a great deal of difficulty. Sterling’s ill-judged interview took place on April 1st- April Fool’s Day. Should he make the wrong decision on his future, the joke will firmly be on him.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
Have West Ham United found the next Mark Noble in Alfie Lewis?
The 18-year-old put in a fine performance against Dagenham and Redbridge this week.
West Ham United took on Dagenham and Redbridge in a friendly yesterday, in a match to raise funds for the National League side.
It was no surprise to see West Ham come out victorious. They won 3-1, with Michail Antonio at the double and Jordan Hugill scoring his first goal for the club.
It was, however, a Hammers team depleted by international selection.
With that in mind, David Moyes’ side fielded some of their younger players. Plenty of them caught the eye, but none more so than central midfielder Alfie Lewis.
The 18-year-old put in a fine display for 90 minutes which left West Ham fans very excited on social media.
It was an even more special achievement given Lewis spent most of last year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Lewis himself told the official West Ham website after the game: “I’m delighted.
“It was a good experience for me tonight, to play with the likes of Patrice Evra, and Mark Noble in midfield. It was a good challenge and a good test for us as well, and I think I did well.”
He spoke of it being an honour playing alongside Mark Noble, but is he the successor to the throne?
Whilst Noble has had his critics in recent times there is no doubt he has been a long-term hero at West Ham.
Fans of the club have often wondered why Noble has never received England recognition given his consistent form in the Premier League.
Noble has gone on to play over 400 games for West Ham since his debut for the club back in 2004.
Lewis certainly has the ability to follow in his footsteps. An energetic midfield creator, West Ham look to have another midfield gem in their ranks and one that can hopefully progress into the first-team soon.
The Hammers have a fine record of bringing through young players.
Noble is one current example and Lewis could not be at a better club if he is to find his way into the West Ham first-team.
This season, with a relegation battle raging, might come a little too soon for the teenager.
Nonetheless, in 2018-19 it will not be a surprise if Lewis finds himself playing alongside Noble in the West Ham midfield once again.
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