Steven Gerrard believes it will be almost impossible for Roy Hodgson to leave Raheem Sterling out of England's World Cup squad if the winger maintains his "sensational" Liverpool form.
With Theo Walcott injured, Gerrard said Sterling has "all the tools" to be a viable alternative to the Arsenal wingerand force his way into the England manager's plans.
Sterling has started Liverpool's last 10 matches and, in the England captain's opinion, has been one of the club's best players in recent months. The 19-year-old was a key figure in the remarkable 5-3 victory over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday, when he had a hand in two of the goals and caught the eye with his direct running on the right flank.
Called up to the England squad for the first time in September 2012, Sterling made his senior debut against Sweden two months later and was named in Hodgson's squads at the start of the season but has since gone on to feature at U-21 level. Gerrard, however, believes that, with Walcott sidelined, there is a window of opportunity for Sterling to stake his claim for one of the wide positions in the senior setup.
"He's in top form at a fantastic time. I'm obviously disappointed for Theo with his injury but I'm sure Roy Hodgson is looking out for who is going to replace him and Raheem's performances of late have been sensational," said Gerrard. "There's many candidates. [Aaron] Lennon's playing well. Andros Townsend, [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain's back … but if you are looking at like-for-like pace down the wing, someone who can make, score and create, then Raheem has got a fantastic chance.
"I think he knows what the situation is. I've just said to him after the game: 'You keep your performance at that level and you are going to make it very difficult for Roy Hodgson not to take you.' Hopefully he can build on the confidence from his recent performances and finish the season really strongly. He's got all the tools to do it, it's up to him now.
"If you are a full-back you don't want to play against pace – and it's pace when it's coming at you all of the time. He keeps going. He's a fit lad who will be relentless, he'll keep going even if he makes a mistake. He's a team player, too. Everyone knows Roy Hodgson, he likes a wide player who can defend as well. Raheem's got everything going for him. Now it's up to him to keep putting in that level of performance."
Although Sterling is now playing with growing maturity and confidence, he has not had everything his own way since emerging at Anfield. There have been off-the-field issues to contend with and the teenager, who signed a five-year contract worth £35,000 a week in December 2012, also suffered a loss of form . Gerrard, though, is full of praise for the way that Sterling has responded.
"You've got to understand his age. He's learning the game. He's got a fantastic manager to help him through that," Gerrard said. "He's only 18 and you are going to suffer a dip in form. Who doesn't have a dip at 18 years of age? But the mark of a good player, and how good any player is going to be, is how they come back from that. Can he react? To come back the way he has, he's been one of our most consistent players in the last couple of months. He's been brilliant."