Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says he "expected" Raheem Sterling to plateau after an explosive start to life in the club's first team squad.
The 18-year-old made his debut for the Reds last March but Rodgers has stepped up his exposure this term, affording him 23 Premier League appearances to date.
However, after an initial return of two goals and three assists before the turn of the year, Sterling has failed to carry his form in 2013 - a fact which Rodgers says is natural for a young player.
"This is a kid we're talking about so we have to take a wee step back," Rodgers told The Guardian. "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."
The former QPR trainee’s drop in form and the January arrivals of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have led to him being used more sparingly in recent weeks, starting just five of the Reds' last 14 games.
Nevertheless, only the Merseyside club's two most influential players - Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez - have featured more than the teenager this season, and Rodgers noted that the youngster’s contribution cannot be underestimated.
"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. 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," Rodgers said. "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."