Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling believes an enforced injury break has helped his bid to prove that his excellent start to last season was no fluke.
Sterling established himself as a regular under the management of Brendan Rodgers last autumn, also winning a first England cap and signing a five-year contract.
But the 18-year-old’s form dipped after Christmas, and he was forced to miss the final seven weeks of the Premier League campaign with a thigh problem.
That injury also kept him out of the England Under-21 squad for the European Championships in Israel in June, but the winger has returned to action during Liverpool’s pre-season programme.
Sterling told the Liverpool Echo: "I didn’t think so at the time, but the break I had probably did me good. You want to play as many games as you can but mentally as well as physically I probably needed a rest."
In addition to his injury problems, Sterling also had the distraction of an assault allegation hanging over him, before the case was dropped in May.
He added: "At the time, there were a few things going on off the field. That time I spent out means I’m raring to go for the new season.
"Now it’s up to me. I need to kick-on and prove I really did deserve those call-ups; that it wasn’t just a fluke. I have a lot to prove this season."
Sterling explained that his thigh injury still needs careful management to ensure it does not flare up again, but that he is over the worst.
He said: "I got a hit on the thigh. I got some bruising there and didn’t really think anything about it, but then there was some internal bleeding and it started to get solid.
"Around December, the pain started and it affected my performances. I think the dip in my form was purely down to my injury. I just wasn’t as sharp as I had been before. I was like a snail when I got the ball.
"It’s a chronic injury so it’s one where even though I’m back, I need to keep having treatment on it and looking after it.
"I’ve got to be really professional and careful but I am over it now and I’m feeling 100%."
Sterling scored in Liverpool’s first two pre-season games - a 4-0 win at Preston on July 13 and a 2-0 victory over an Indonesia XI in Jakarta seven days later.
Having played his part in the 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory on Wednesday, he is set to figure in the final match of Liverpool’s tour of the Far East and Australia on Sunday, when they face Thailand in Bangkok.
The squad will then fly back to Merseyside on Monday to prepare for Steven Gerrard’s testimonial, against Olympiakos at Anfield on August 3.
"For all the lads, Steven Gerrard is an inspiration," Sterling said. "Out of all the players here, he’s the one I’ve looked up to more than anyone."