Following that ill-advised interview, Sterling needs a big performance for whole heap of reasons.
Firstly, an impressive, preferably match-winning performance might help Liverpool fans forget briefly about Sterling’s failed and unsanctioned attempt to paint himself as the young kid who just wants to play football. A goal or a couple of assists might see visiting Reds remember Sterling’s more redeeming qualities, as opposed to his supposed ambition.
Whether that matters to Sterling remains unclear. Perhaps he might be more interested in turning in a performance to impress potential suitors, which Arsene Wenger is reported to be one.
That may be irrelevant, however, given the two years remaining on Sterling’s deal mean that FSG are in absolutely no hurry to sell. So the only way the 20-year-old might be playing somewhere sunny in an away kit next season is if it bears a Liver bird on the chest.
So, he best get on with helping his team recover from the home defeat to Manchester United and aid them in returning to the form that helped them go unbeaten in 13 games. The loss a fortnight ago left Liverpool five points off the top four, but victory at Arsenal would reduce that to three – perhaps fewer if Aston Villa can pull off a shock at Old Trafford. Sterling is not the only member of the Liverpool party with some quick re-assessments to make, though…
The Liverpool manager prides himself on tactical nous and awareness, so he will be only too aware that his three-at-the-back formation has failed his side in recent weeks.
The away win at Swansea – coming off the back of being held at home by Championship side Blackburn – was earned only after Rodgers ditched the 3-4-3 (or whatever sequence of numbers you prefer ahead of the centre-halves) at half-time, which is exactly what he was forced to do against Manchester United. The change at Swansea paid dividends; Steven Gerrard’s 38-second return trip between dressing room and halfway line limited the effect of Rodgers’ tinkering against United, but even with 10 men in defeat, there is no doubt that Liverpool were better than the first period.
Sterling could be given the opportunity to thrive again up front, and though Rodgers has obvious problems with the youngster, his immediate priority is deciding whether to dismantle the back three, which risks being suffocated again, this time by the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Santi Cazorla.
With the teams above and below United facing each other, this weekend is a prefect opportunity for United to make gains on at least one of their main rivals.
After Arsenal and Liverpool have thrashed it out, United host a Villa side whose priorities may lie elsewhere, with Tim Sherwood likely to be more concerned about the visit of QPR on Tuesday.
Actually, given what we know about Sherwood, maybe he is eyeing a shock at Old Trafford, but if United continue the form they showed against Tottenham and Liverpool, then Villa will have to write this one off.
Wayne Rooney said beating Villa would trump the result at Anfield, and while it may not be the case for United supporters, the importance is certainly as great.
Sunderland’s last two managerial appointments failed quite dramatically, but both Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet will always be remembered for bringing joy to Wearside on derby day.
The previous two managers both won in their rival’s backyard, but Dick Advocaat just has to win at home on Sunday to buy himself some considerable credit with the Sunderland supporters.
Luckilly for Advocaat, Newcastle are almost on the beach already. They were dragged back of it for the second half against Arsenal a fortnight ago, which John Carver said disproved Phil Neville’s assertion that the Magpies were in flip-flops already. The second half offered some encouragement, but that came only after a first half which Carver’s men sauntered through, not only wearing flip-flops, but also speedos and factor 50.
Advocaat will have taken some positives, if not points, from the late defeat at West Ham last time out, with Sunderland at least being seen to make the effort to get support around their front men, even if the service was still in short supply.
Given 17th-placed Sunderland’s dire need for goals and points, Sunday would also be an appropriate time for Jermain Defoe to find some form. He missed a crucial chance at West Ham and looked somewhat lost against his former club.
Roberto Martinez says he wants to finish the season strongly so as to build momentum for next season. The focus for now, though, should be squarely on the current campaign and the visit of Southampton.
After a fairly wretched season so far, Everton have put together back-to-back wins (even if those victories were interrupted by a miserable trip to Kiev) and should be targeting a top-half finish. They currently stand eight points off that target, but the top 10 is by no means out of reach with eight games to go. That would be some consolation to Evertonians, who would be justified in seeking some answers from Martinez should they languish around 13th place.
With the Saints in town on Saturday, Martinez will be desperate to get Romelu Lukaku fit and Ross Barkley firing following his impressive cameo for England in Italy. As Martinez says, Barkley is a player of “extremes” and the manager must hope the midfielder continues where he left off in Turin.
Jose Mourinho will be extremely comfortable with the six-point cushion and the game in hand his side hold over Manchester City. But Chelsea’s recent home form has been far from satisfactory, and Stoke won’t lie down on Saturday evening.
The Blues have won only one of their last four Premier League home games, and though they did not lose any of them, draws with Southampton and Burnley, on top of the Champions League exit and most-recent defensive display at Hull, brought other worries for the manager other than mere dropped points.
Why has the defence been so uncharacteristically generous of late? What has happened to Cesc Fabregas? Is the strength of his squad as deep as we all thought?
OK, so there are still plenty of questions for Jose, but it remains the case that Chelsea, even with their flaws, are still likely to runaway with the title. But Mourinho enjoys not only winning, but winning at a canter. He will want the title wrapped up and Manchester City and their rivals put out of their misery at the earliest opportunity.
I wrote that it was a big weekend for QPR a fortnight ago. They lost to Everton. Which makes this not only a big weekend, but a huge week ahead.
Chris Ramsey takes his side to West Brom on Saturday with survival still achievable, even if unlikely. They remain four points off safety, but a positive week could reap that reward, with the trip to West Brom preceding a visit from fellow strugglers Aston Villa.
The Everton defeat was the third consecutive home game to result in a 2-1 reverse, with Rangers showing signs of life in a three games. Those performances, certainly more so than the shambles at Crystal Palace, suggested QPR’s problems lie more in a lack of confidence than quality, so hope remains if Ramsey used the international break to get inside his players’ heads.