Diogo Jota’s hat-trick and Liverpool’s overall performance were the main talking points from the Reds’ 5-0 hammering of Atalanta last Tuesday.
But it shouldn’t be lost in the narrative that the English champions featured four homegrown, academy produced players over the course of the 90 minutes in Bergamo.
Rhys Williams slotted in comfortably at centre half next to Joe Gomez, Curtis Jones — alongside Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson — was part of the midfield three and Trent Alexander started in his usual right-back berth, and was replaced by another Kirby alumni in Neco Williams.
This use of club produced players may be explained away by some by the fact that Liverpool are currently going through somewhat of an injury crisis, but this is the slick of luck that all homegrown players need to hasten their pathway into the first team. Alexander Arnold, let’s not forget, prospered during an extended injury to the former Reds’ right-back, Nathaniel Clyne.
For Jurgen Klopp to trust so many young players nurtured within the confines of the club in a game away to a team who scored 98(!) goals in last seasons Serie A is a glowing testament to the work of Alex Inglethorpe and all the staff in the clubs youth system.
Alexander Arnold was typically impressive throughout the rout of the Italians, laying on an assist for Jota with typical vision and technical quality.
Williams, showing a maturity well beyond his tender 19 years, marshalled the threat of Atalanta — whose attacking exploits have won them an army of admirers across the continents — with composure and nous in great experience. The fact that the Preston native played non-league football last season only makes his adaptation to the highest level of club competition more the impressive.
Jones was his typically tigerish self in the heart of midfield and assisted Mohamed Salah with a quick-thinking, left-footed pass that filleted La Dea and allowed the Egyptian to speed away on the counter-attack. Off the ball, too, the young Scouser showed his increasing comprehension of Klopp’s demands. At 19 years old, the footballing world is Jones oyster.
Williams, the Welsh variation, played the final ten minutes after replacing his right-back mentor, Alexander Arnold. The speedster almost had an assist late on, but his low, accurate cross was scrambled away by the beaten and battered Atalanta defence.
For the present, the new academy options at the Reds disposal — with Paul Glatzel and Jake Cain also promising — can help plug gaps in the first team while they learn their craft and strive to eventually become bonafide first-team options.
But with a club the stature of Liverpool turning to their crop of youth could big long term benefits, especially in the transfer market.
For years under the massively successful stewardship of Alex Ferguson, Manchester United — as well as the benefits on the pitch from the fabled “Class of 92” — used the reputation of their academy to sell players they produced for prices that exceeded their actual abilities.
The likes of Kieran Richardson, Danny Welbeck and Darron Gibson — who were demonstrably not up to scratch — departed the Red Devils for big fees, which helped United offset and inflate their spending in the market.
If the Anfield club could mirror this approach, they could have the means to spend sustainably in the coming years to add to a nucleus of locally produced players that they deem good enough to keep at the club. This is the recipe — as shown by their great rivals, by Barcelona and, historically, by Ajax — to dynastic success.
To also have the reputation of giving youth a chance — a tag that Klopp has earned through his development of young players at Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool — strengthens a clubs hand in negotiations for signing the new wave of up and coming talent, both at home and abroad.
The Reds fielding four academy players in their mauling of Atalanta was brilliant to see and its benefit could last years and set the club up for even more success.