Assessing Liverpool's Youth Players: Who Deserves their Chance?
As Liverpool return to pre-season, the return of Pepijn Lijnders also marks a renewed optimism for Liverpool’s youth prospects: Ben Woodburn and Trent-Alexander Arnold both speak highly of their experience under the man many assume will take up the mantle of outgoing assistant Zeljko Buvac. With that re-appointment comes a voice in Klopp’s ear: one who’s able to vouch for the ability of these youngsters as Liverpool seek to address the gap between Liverpool’s youth setup at Kirkby and their training setup at Melwood.
So, with that in mind, which of the youth prospects should be given their chance in pre-season, and which are more likely to see the exit door?
The man of the moment against Chester, and a player to whom many are heralding as Liverpool’s next breakout star, Wilson contributed seven goals and three assists in just thirteen games for Hull City during the latter stages of last season and certainly seized his chance after a frustrating six months on the sidelines at Liverpool. While he saw players that he came up with get their chances in the mould of both Alexander-Arnold and Woodburn, Wilson has yet to be called up by Klopp during his Liverpool tenure, save for one 25-minute FA Cup cameo in January 2017.
His stint at Hull, and performance in Liverpool’s first pre-season game, displayed what many of his supporters are adamant in maintaining: he’s a goal threat from the flanks, has pace to burn and is actually rather quite creative. At 21 years of age, he’s now coming to a crossroads in his career; he can ill afford another season on the bench at Liverpool, unable to break through.
And with the rumours that Liverpool are in the market for a backup option stronger than Wilson to support their devastating front three, it would be too good of an option to pass up for Liverpool to keep Wilson: his performances at Hull make him a £15 million asset in today’s game, and a Championship club would certainly be willing to pay that for a goalscoring winger of his ilk. It makes sense for both parties to part ways.
Wales’ second youngest ever goalscorer and Liverpool’s anointed prodigy, some were under the impression that Woodburn stagnated during the 2017/18 season, given the rarity of his cameos. Let those people be reminded: the kid is eighteen years of age, he is Liverpool Football Club’s youngest ever goalscorer at 17 years and 45 days and second youngest ever player behind Jack Robinson.
While the clamour for Liverpool to find an answer to Kylian Mbappe will undoubtedly place undue pressure on the kid, there can be no doubting the talent, nor the faith already placed in the young Welshman by Jürgen Klopp: who has given him six senior appearances so far, with more assuredly on the way: he was brought on in the final game of the season for Mohamed Salah, just as a subtle reminder that he is still very much in the manager’s thoughts.
Pre-season will be vital in determining whether another season in Liverpool’s youth setup is necessary, or whether he’s ready to make a step-up and be loaned somewhere in England’s upper football setup: whether that be the Championship or League 1. Should the fit be right, Woodburn would do well to get minutes and bulk up, as well as prove his capability as a goalscoring attacker.
A miserly loan spell at Sunderland may have tampered the hype around 20-year-old Ovie Ejaria, but a reunion with a familiar face in Scotland may well be perfect for the creative central midfielder.
The Englishman – who played a bit-part role in England’s U-20 World Cup winning side in 2017 – also penned his name to a new contract that will seems to have secured his Liverpool future, but a permanent move to Rangers may well be on the cards if an appropriate bid is submitted (and should he impress Steven Gerrard.)
Perhaps the most exemplary exhibition of what a loan spell can do for a player, Sheyi Ojo might not have what it takes to make it at Liverpool, but his stock certainly went up following an impressive loan spell at promoted Fulham. Making 22 Championship appearances and scoring 4 times, he became a commonly praised figure at Craven Cottage despite only being twenty years of age at the time.
Playing chiefly off the right, his pace flourished in Slavisa Jokanovic’s setup, and the ability to showcase his talent should see a number of Championship clubs interested, all willing to pay good money for someone who may well be too far down the pecking order at Liverpool to properly impress.
A good pre-season could well see the club that retained his services temporarily last season come in for a more permanent bid. He would do well to take them up on it, too.
Perhaps the most tantalising of Liverpool’s current prospects, any who’ve paid attention to Liverpool’s youth leagues will be aware of just how much damage Rhian Brewster has dealt to opposition defenders at U-18 and U-21 level. So much damage, in fact, that Borussia Monchengladbach wanted to pounce on the Englishman’s contract running out and secure their very own Jadon Sancho.
Brewster would have been well in his right to make his way to Germany: they’ve got a much more successful track record with handling young players than England does – Sancho himself became a regular for Borussia Dortmund at the tail end of last season, having taken the #7 previously worn by Ousmane Dembele. But, with the benefit of a German at the helm, Liverpool’s tendency to buck that English trend has seemingly kept the young striker at the club.
He’ll have been guaranteed certain things to keep him here: if he’s not loaned out for first team experience, Liverpool fans can certainly expect to see him make cameos late in games, as Dominic Solanke did in 2017/18. An injury could well curtail any impact he wants to make in pre-season, but he’d also do well to accept any loan offers that come his way, given the damage he could wreak on an unwitting League 1 or Championship.
The 20-year old capped off an unremarkable, if not hindered season with his first senior goal for Liverpool, including sixteen league appearances off the bench and one assist to boot. Much was made of a potential coup Liverpool pulled off by procuring the signing from Chelsea for a measly tribunal fee, especially given he won the Golden Ball at the U-20 World Cup; as England exhibited their most successful youth generation of the 21st century.
His performances for Liverpool, however, bely the need for Solanke to get consistency and build on his overall game. A loan to a Championship side – or potentially even a relegation-threatened Premier League side – would benefit both parties. Given Divock Origi is the better fit as Liverpool’s backup striker, a loan deal seems imperative.