Raheem Sterling can expect to play only a handful of first-team games for the rest of the season as Liverpool look to protect their starlet from burnout.

The winger made giant strides after being unleashed at the beginning of the campaign and won his first England cap. But his form has tailed off and he has only started three Barclays Premier League games since Christmas. Sterling dropped down to play for the Under 21s against Manchester United on Monday night and could see more action at that level after Liverpool bolstered their attacking options during the January window. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says even if Sterling (below), who only turned 18 in December, doesn’t play in the first team again between now and May, his first year in the senior ranks can be deemed a success.

‘This is a kid we’re talking about, so we have to take a wee step back,’ Rodgers said. ‘What he’s done since he stepped on to the pitch against Bayer Leverkusen in a friendly — I dare you to look around Europe and tell me a 17-year-old who has made an impact in one of the big leagues. There aren’t many. It is so mentally and physically draining this league, it hurts experienced professionals and this boy has just stepped up from the Academy and played football and earned a contract.

‘We have to nurture that and at times he’s got to have a mentality to keep learning.

‘What you’re seeing now is more tiredness of the legs when before he could go up to people and take them on. That zip has gone and that’s down to fatigue. He will have experienced that before, but not in the limelight. He’s made such an impact that everyone is looking at him now, of course. He’s started his career at first-team level way before many get the opportunity.’

The FA are to look into the Under 21 game between Liverpool and United. Late in the second half of United’s 1-0 win, a fan ran on to the pitch at St Helens’ Langtree Park stadium and appeared to direct abuse at Liverpool striker Adam Morgan. Flares were also set off and one was thrown on to the pitch. – Daily Mail