Sterling is not the best! Five young players better than the Liverpool winger

Thibaut Coutois

Below are five young players in Europe who are better than the Liverpool teenager.

Following Liverpool’s edgy 3-2 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road on Sunday, manager Brendan Rodgers hailed Raheem Sterling as “the best young player in European football”.

The Northern Irishman did have reasons to make that remark. After all, the 19-year-old had just helped the Reds pick up three important points in the race for the Premier League title, scoring two goals and creating the other.

Sterling has been a revelation this season and has made himself a key player for the Merseyside outfit. Nine goals and four assists in 21 league starts are brilliant returns when you consider that he is still a teenager.

There is no doubt that Sterling, who is in frame to be called up to the 23-man England squad for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil in the summer, is one of the most promising young players in Europe, but is he 'the best' as Rodgers claims?

Below are the five best players who yours truly believes are better and more talented than the England international. Since the term ‘young player’ can be quite broad, I have considered players aged 21 or under.

Julian Draxler, 20, Schalke

He has made over 100 competitive appearances for Schalke and 10 for Germany, and he is only 20 years of age. Arsenal were strongly linked with a move for Draxler in January and there is a reason why. He is a genuinely talented footballer who has been steadily progressing for the past three years. How many times have we seen ‘the next big thing’ disappear after six great months? The attacking midfielder has been on top form for the better part of three years, helping the Royal Blues to top-four finishes in the last two seasons.

Mario Gotze, 21, Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich paid Borussia Dortmund Gotze’s full release clause of €37 million (£30.5m) last summer and made him the most expensive German player at the time. The announcement was made in April last year when he was still 20 years of age. No one batted an eyelid – after all, the attacking midfielder had firmly established himself as one of the best players in Europe, thanks to his exploits in the Champions League. He stepped up for Dortmund following the departure of Shinji Kagawa and has not looked back since. This season he has struggled with injuries, but has still made 25 league appearances, and under Pep Guardiola, the Germany international can only improve.

Paul Pogba, 21, Juventus

The French youngster left the English shores frustrated with his lack of opportunities and in search of first-team football in the summer of 2012. At Juventus, he found a team and a manager (Antonio Conte) who recognised his potential. Sir Alex Ferguson may have nurtured some of the biggest talents in world football, but Pogba will be the one that got away. So much so that there have been persistent rumours that United could come back for the 21-year-old. An all-round central midfielder, Pogba has been a massive success in Italian football, helping Juve win Serie A last season and playing a key role in their march towards the Scudetto this term.

Thibaut Courtois, 21, Atletico Madrid/Chelsea

The best goalkeeper in the world? He could well be. The Belgium international, who is on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea for the third season in a row, has already won the Europa League and the Copa del Rey in his career. By the end of the season, he could win both La Liga and the Champions League, and not by warming the bench either. The 21-year-old has played over 100 league matches for Atletico, made 10 appearances in the Champions league and 15 in the Europa League.

Raphael Varane, 20, Real Madrid

One could argue that Raphael Varane hasn’t really played much over the past two seasons to merit a place in the ‘best young player in Europe’ category, but perhaps one should consider that he is at Real Madrid and has Sergio Ramos and Pepe ahead of him in the pecking order. The 20-year-old defender was cherry-picked by his compatriot and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane and was signed from Lens in the summer of 2011. He was largely a bit-part player under Jose Mourinho in what was a very crucial 2011-12 campaign for the Spanish giants. Last season was his breakthrough campaign, and his performances against Barcelona and Manchester United earned him laurels from some of the world’s greatest defenders. Injuries have impeded his progress again this campaign, but in Varane Madrid have a centre-back who is comfortable on the ball and makes clean tackles. Even Mourinho, now at Chelsea, made this remark last month: ‘I think he is the best young central defender in the world. Already I think he's the best’.

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