Stelling on the good and bad of Liverpool; tips Sterling to stay

Jeff Stelling Carlsberg Peoples Pundit

Jeff Stelling discusses Liverpool's top-four challenge, their Champions League disappointment and Raheem Sterling's future with HITC Sport.

Jeff Stelling Carlsberg Peoples Pundit

Twelve months ago Liverpool were dreaming of Premier League title glory.

A lot has changed over the course of the last year: Luis Suarez has gone, the Reds have returned to European football’s top table and taken in a Jekyll and Hyde 2014/15 campaign that has seen them produce the sublime and the ridiculous – sometimes over the course of one 90-minute display!

There is still every chance, though, that the season will be another to remember for all of the right reasons.

A 2-0 defeat to arch-rivals Manchester United on Sunday has offered an untimely setback and a reminder that for all of their good work since the turn of the year, there is still plenty to be done.

A top-four finish remains there to be shot at, while a productive run through the FA Cup could offer a silver lining at Wembley and a fitting farewell to outgoing skipper Steven Gerrard on what will be his 35th birthday.

This is part of the problem for the Reds, though, their campaign is still being shaped by ifs and buts.

They could head into the summer with Champions League qualification secured and a shiny trophy added to the Anfield cabinet. On the flip side, they could end up with nothing, with more Thursday night football in the Europa League providing scant consolation to what could have been.

Were that to be the case, with a five-point gap to the top four unable to be bridged, how would those on the red half of Merseyside reflect on their efforts?

Jeff Stelling is supporting North West finalist Andy Dawber in The People's Pundit, championed by the Carlsberg Fan Squad, and went to visit him in his local pub to give him some top tips on punditry. While there, we at HITC Sport put the above question to the Soccer Saturday anchorman during a telephone interview.

Jeff Stelling Carlsberg Peoples Pundit

He said: “I don’t think it’s a bad season for them. The disappointment, for me, was that they didn’t progress through the Champions League. I thought they had the right sort of group and could, maybe should, have gone on.

“What they have got to try and do is disregard the first half of the season, just take all of the encouragement that comes from the second half. I know they have had a little wobble now, but they have played some brilliant football. In the second half of the season they haven’t missed Suarez, they still need to get Raheem Sterling’s contract sorted, and sorted quickly.

“I think they can then look forward to a bright future. If you look at the age of that Liverpool team, they have got so many players that have their best years ahead of them. You can contrast that with the likes of Manchester City, where they have a lot of players with their best years behind them. I think there is a lot to look forward to for Liverpool.”

Whatever way you look at it, the next few months have plenty riding on them for Liverpool.

Sterling’s future is a concern, with fresh terms yet to be agreed with the England international. He is not Suarez – his importance to the side is not at that level – but he has been nurtured carefully to this point, at 20 years of age, by the Reds and they are understandably reluctant to see another top talent slip through their fingers this summer.

What, then, will the end of this saga bring? Will he stay or will he go? Plenty have had their say, with opinion seemingly split among supporters and pundits.

Asked for his take on the issue, Stelling said: “Phil Thompson is as red as they come and has got huge concerns about it. He (Sterling) changed his agent recently and that might be an issue, I don’t know his agent.

“He’s a young boy and he’s at one of the best teams in Europe and has phenomenal talent. But it’s a difficult one to call. I think he will sign, that’s what my gut says, but for no other reason than he’s got an ideal manager in Brendan Rodgers that will help him to develop as a player. I think he would be advised to stay where he is.”

Whether that proves to be the case remains to be seen, with these things never as easily resolved as they seemingly should be for those of us looking on from the outside.

Leaving things until the summer may be no bad thing, as it allows focus to be locked on on-field events, but what is clear is that Liverpool once again find themselves facing more questions than they have answers as we approach the end of another action-packed season.

The mission of the Carlsberg fan squad is to make football better for fans. That's why, If Carlsberg did Pundits…they'd probably be just like you. Jeff Stelling visited North West finalist, Andy Dawber, at the John Millngton Pub in Manchester to help him prepare for Boot Camp in the People's Pundit, championed by Carlsberg – the official beer of the Premier League. To find out how Andy and all of our other pundits get on in the race to secure their big break on talkSPORT, or to find details of a regional heat near you, head to Plus, if you'd like to show your support to Andy, follow him @AndyDawber #PeoplesPundit

Register for LIVERPOOL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch