Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says Raheem Sterling's drop in form was to be expected after the teenager's break-through season in professional football.

Sterling made both his full club debut against Hearts in the Europa League as well as his international bow for England against Sweden in November.

Such were Liverpool's trials in the summer transfer window, Rodgers' hand was forced into employing several of the club's academy players in the first team this season, with Andre Wisdom and Suso among those handed their first appearances on Merseyside.

While Wisdom and Suso have been used sparingly this season, Sterling has made 36 appearances and Rodgers says it was natural the 18 year old's form would drop off.

Raheem Sterling
Sterling has impressed in his break-through season for Liverpool.

"This is a kid we're talking about so we have to take a wee step back," said the Liverpool manager.

"What he's done since he stepped onto the pitch against Bayer Leverkusen in a friendly to Manchester City [for his league debut] as a 17-year-old, I dare you to look around Europe and tell me a 17-year-old who has made such 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 first-team football and earned a contract off that. We have to nurture that and at times he's got to have that mentality to keep learning."

Sterling scored the first of his two goals for Liverpool this season in the 1-0 win over Reading in October, and has for much of the season impressed in a wide-left position, or in behind striker and top scorer Luis Suarez.

And with an England debut in the defeat to Sweden in boot, with Roy Hodgson keen to get the Jamaican-born player involved in the senior squad ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Sterling has enjoyed a season beyond expectations.

"I was talking to him the other day about this, and if he didn't kick another ball this season he's had a good one," Rodgers added.

"It's a very physically demanding league and 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. Was that to be expected? Yes it was.

"He will have experienced that before but not in the limelight like it is now. He's made such an impact that everyone is looking at him now.

"But the job is to nurture him. He's started his career at first-team level way before many get the opportunity.

"He's still got lots of improvement to make in his game. Over the years we will look at his plan and development and act accordingly."