The 19-year-old Englishman has speed, touch, barrel-chested strength and ability to feel the game in motion around him
At the sharp end, elite sport is often about pressure: not only what you actually do, but what you actually do when it actually matters. Raheem Sterling, who was superbly effective at Anfield the previous week, was superbly effective again at Carrow Road in another nerve-shredding 3-2 Liverpool victory.
Driven on by Sterling – described by Brendan Rodgers as "arguably the best young player in Europe" – Liverpool picked Norwich apart in the opening 11 minutes, scoring twice before the home team drove them back in the second half and might even have taken a point.
There will be the usual talk of hyperbole and newspaper gush, the fear that a player like Sterling is built up only in order to be processed through the mincer, even the suggestion from some that simply noticing how well he is playing is likely to torpedo his future progress. Well, tough.
In the last two weeks a 19-year-old Englishman has been the most influential player in an epic, bladder-shrinking title race. Frankly, if Sterling never achieves anything else in his career this is a moment to be cherished, a series of performances marked out by a striking clarity of purpose. Success like this doesn't come around often.
Football is unfair, capricious, muddied by luck and injury. Sterling has risen above all of this these last few weeks, driving Liverpool on towards a first title in 24 years where others might have shrunk. This is not the moment to stay seated. It is a moment to applaud.
Liverpool began with a familiar controlled surge as Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suárez changed positions relentlessly. With four minutes gone Sterling produced the moment of explosive craft that nudged the day decisively Liverpool's way. Taking the ball from Coutinho's pass he took three paces, jinked away form Bradley Johnson like a man politely skirting a stray toddler and then hit a low-backlift, right-foot shot high past John Ruddy's right hand. It was a beautifully natural piece of skill at a vital time in a vital game from a player who on the evidence of the past three months basically has everything – speed, touch, barrel-chested strengthand mostimportantly the ability to feel the game in motion around him.
This ability to see and time a pass was there in Liverpool's second goal as Sterling carried the ball through the inside-left channel and waited for Suárez to make his run before nudging a malevolent little invitation of a pass along the six-yard box, which Suárez rolled expertly into the far corner. It was the 30th goal of the season for the Hammer of Norfolk. Never mind what the voting says. In Suárez and Sterling, Liverpool have provided both the player and young player of the Premier League season.
Sterling was relentlessly eye-catching in the first half, a man who seems to be carrying around with him his own little dedicated pocket of space. At one point late in the second half he was scythed down by Michael Turner, not so much a cynical tackle as one inspired by disorientation, the defender hurling himself the wrong way in the face of that flickering Sterling body swerve.
It is the oldest trick in the book – Stanley Matthews spent 30 years dipping the shoulder and then disappearing the other way – but it is another thing to stop it, or to match such explosive lateral movement from a player who is built to swerve, and whose speed seems to flow from a prodigiously muscled backside and an upright running style reminiscent of Michael Johnson, the 400m runner whose upper body also remained perfectly poised while his feet battered the track like a boxer hitting the heavy bag.
Liverpool's third goal was another piece of bespoke Sterling work. Taking the ball from a misplaced pass in the centre circle he produced that familiar surge, a zigzagging sprint towards a retreating defence, brain whirring, angles being calculated. Turner was banished with a step to one side, the ball ran back to Sterling from Suárez and Johnson's attempt to tackle back only helped deflect the ball over Ruddy.
Chelsea await next weekend, and beyond that an epic-looking South American World Cup. There have already been calls for Roy Hodgson to de-clench the handbrake this summer, chucking out the chintz and basing his England squad for Brazil around the youthful green shoots of the last half-season. And why not? International football is there to showcase what the system can produce.
Surely the gamble lies in not picking the brilliantly bold game-changer, and settling instead for the well-seasoned underachievement of generations past. Not that Liverpool fans will care either way. A title race that was billed as a fight to the finish is in danger of dissolving into a procession, driven on by a player who has taken his chance fearlessly.