Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has lavished praised on Raheem Sterling, claiming the 20-year-old versatile star has become the catalyst of the team following Luis Suarez's departure to Barcelona.

With Daniel Sturridge out injured since the end of August and Mario Balotelli failing to make an impact up front, Rodgers decided to deploy Sterling into a more advanced role – almost as a false nine – during the 3-0 defeat against Manchester United on Sunday 14 December.

Despite the England international being a real threat to United's defenders, he missed some easy chances against an impressive David De Gea.

But Rodgers hailed his performances, not only at Old Trafford but during the whole season, suggesting he has become one of the leaders of the team.

"I think Raheem has been brilliant. I think he's been absolutely outstanding," Rodgers said.

"He's getting himself into some wonderful positions. The kid has been a real catalyst for us, in terms of our attacking threat. He's such a big talent and he's just turned 20 years of age.

"The kid played in a front role for me at the weekend, as a striker, moving across the line. He's played there as a young player at QPR and he's played there for Liverpool.

"He maybe could have got a goal at the weekend, but I thought he was absolutely outstanding. He puts defenders on the back foot. He's intelligent in his game, his running ability, speed and ability to press the ball.

Even though there once were doubts about his breakthrough into the first team, due to his behaviour following a difficult childhood, Sterling has proved the doubters wrong.

Rodgers said: "He's a wonderful young player and he's a very mature young man. I think he's shown consistently over this last period that he's been a real, real threat and he's a top young player."