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Liverpool youngster Sheyi Ojo is set for a defining summer after undergoing a disappointing 2016/17 campaign that saw him fail to establish himself under Jurgen Klopp.
Breaking through the ranks in 2015/16, Ojo has since drifted between Liverpool’s Under-23’s and the first team setup – though predominantly in terms of training rather than appearances.
Despite lots of hype about what he could offer the side, the 19-year-old has struggled to establish a role for himself during Klopp’s first season at the helm, making just one appearance in the FA Cup.
That game marked his senior debut for Liverpool in their 2-2 draw with Exeter City in the third round of the competition. Replacing fellow youngster Jerome Sinclair with 70 minutes on the clock, Ojo produced a bright cameo performance.
Adding four assists for the first team from then until the end of the 2015/16 season saw the 19-year-old make a goal contribution every 90 minutes on average. However, after sustaining a back injury in a pre-season friendly against AS Roma, Ojo was sidelined until November.
What followed was a turbulent spell for Ojo in which he dropped back down to the Under 23’s in order to regain his fitness. Despite appearances against Plymouth in both the home and away fixture during the first half of the 2016/17 season, he couldn’t follow it up in the long run.
Consequently, he now faces a crucial summer over whether his future remains on Merseyside.
Next season: A turning point?
Permitting they get past their qualifier, Liverpool will be in the Champions League next season. That will bring a much busier schedule for Jurgen Klopp’s side, with a domestic challenge widely sought after, too.
Klopp will undoubtedly be strengthening his squad this summer, with several players already strongly linked with a switch to Anfield. Mohamed Salah is one of the club’s top priorities with the German keen to ensure Liverpool don’t suffer the same fate as they did when Sadio Mane’s season was prematurely ended.
Nonetheless, there could still be chances aplenty for Ojo. Fighting in four competitions next season, Ojo will be among several youngster looking to force their way into the first-team picture.
One of the main reasons for Ojo’s limited opportunities this season were due to disappointing performances in the domestic competitions. Liverpool’s failure in both the FA Cup and EFL Cup left much to be desired, putting increased pressure on the Premier League campaign and thus stifling the 19-year-old’s chances.
Next season could therefore provide somewhat of a turning point for Ojo. Looking to take the step up and carve out a future in the first-team for himself, the 19-year-old has shown glimpses of the talent at his disposal. Now it’s just a matter of harnessing that on a more consistent basis.
Next season: A move to pastures new?
Having played eight times in the 2015/16 Premier League campaign after returning from loan and only playing 104 minutes of first-team football this season, all of which came against Plymouth, there are clear signs Ojo’s career has regressed.
Said regression may only continue should Liverpool sign a wide player this summer – a move that is looking all the more likely. That would only see the 19-year-old slip further down the pecking order.
Having showcased his talents in England’s Under-20s World Cup final triumph, now is the time Ojo needs to be playing football on a regular basis. Thus, it may be beneficial for him to move to pastures new next season on a loan move.
That would allow him to unleash his potential and get some valuable first-team experience under his belt. A spell at a different club would allow the 19-year-old Englishman to show Klopp exactly what he can offer for the future.
Moving somewhere like Brighton or linking up with Rafael Benitez at Newcastle would do wonders for him. Gaining Premier League experience, Ojo would learn to deal with the rigour of the top-flight with Liverpool retaining possession of their talented youngster.
This summer is defining for Sheyi Ojo and his future on Merseyside. Fighting for a first-team spot next season seems unlikely, especially with Mohamed Salah set to join the ranks. Therefore, regular football on loan at a Premier League or Championship club would provide the best of both worlds.
The 19-year-old could gain valuable experience and continue his development before returning to Melwood in an attempt to force his way into Klopp’s future plans. Ojo clearly has talent but until he improves his consistency, it’ll be hard for him to make his mark at Anfield.