Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers says he will be reluctant to rely on Raheem Sterling after admitting the youngster has succumb to the physical nature of the Premier League.
Sterling, 18, has made 23 appearances in the league this season but has suffered an obvious dip in form after making a promising start to his first team career.
With the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, Sterling has been pushed to the fringes of Liverpool's line-up as Rodgers attempts to help him avoid burn out.
But the Reds boss is adamant that Sterling has already done enough this season to assure his future in the Premier League and concedes he didn't expect the England international to perform at his peak all season.
"This is a kid we're talking about, so we have to take a wee step back," Rodgers said. "This league is so mentally and physically draining, it hurts experienced professionals and this boy has just stepped up from the Academy.
"The zip has gone and that's down to fatigue. But was that to be expected? Yes it was. 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.
"So we have to nurture him and protect him - it's just a very demanding league."