Just as he got going, Wataru Endo’s streak is about to come to an end. Or at least for Liverpool. As exciting as Endo will be to join up with his international teammates for the Asian Cup, he will be just as disappointed to leave Liverpool – after having fought his way into the starting XI.
Endo has been in brilliant form over the last few weeks for Liverpool and has well and truly earned Jürgen Klopp’s trust becoming the first player under the German to start 5 games in 13 days.
In big games against Manchester United and Arsenal, he’s provided stability in midfield and was one of the Reds’ best performers. But now Liverpool will have to make do without him.
There are expected to be some key players returning in January for Liverpool. Alexis Mac Allister is set to be available, and he will fill the role vacated by Endo in midfield. In addition, Thiago Alcantara could also be available as he is expected to return to first team training.
Those two should provide more than enough cover in Endo’s absence. However, it would not be a surprise to see a few youngsters given a chance as well. Especially, since Endo could miss up to nine games for Liverpool. Five in the Premier League, and four other potential cup ties.
Under the radar talent
Liverpool’s academy players have been really impressive in general when stepping up to the first team this season. The most notable performances have come from Jarell Quansah, but the likes of Ben Doak, Kaide Gordon, Conor Bradley and Luke Chambers have all left a positive impression.
One player who is less spoken about is James McConnell. The 19 year old has only played a total of about 20 minutes of football for Liverpool’s senior team. But in that time he’s made his European and Premier League debut and showed flashes of his brilliances. He’s also been included in the last four Premier League squads by Jürgen Klopp.
McConnell was one of the surprise names on the list for Liverpool’s first pre-season tour last summer. Only 18 years old at the time, he stood-out at academy level for his versatility. However, he hadn’t quite yet defined his role.
That changed in pre-season. With Liverpool’s lack of depth, McConnell became at times the second choice holding midfielder in the team, and was thus given regular cameo appearances.
Like Trent Alexander-Arnold, when he transitioned into a right-back, McConnell took his chance and looked comfortable in the position. Klopp waxed lyrical about the young teenager, describing him as a ‘joy to watch’ in the number six role.
In total, during pre-season McConnell played 176 minutes. He won six out of his nine defensive duels, made four interceptions, and 12 recoveries, while completing 93 of his 101 attempted passes.
McConnell this season
Over the course of this season, McConnell has been given regular minutes in the number six position for the club’s U21 side. He’s even stepped into a senior role, captaining the team on a few occassions including against League One opposition in the EFL Trophy.
In his new role, he’s been one of the stand-out performers for the U21s, and the metrics highlight that. According to Wyscout in the Premier League 2, McConnell has averaged the most interceptions out of any player per 90 minutes (9.34) and he’s also competed in the most defensive duels per 90 (19.53).
In one game against Crystal Palace, McConnell won a whopping 17 duels, and made 11 interceptions and 16 recoveries.
And it’s not just among his age peers that McConnell has shone. He’s also been impressive for Liverpool’s U21 side in the EFL Trophy, and helped the Reds qualify out of the group-stages for the first time. McConnell not only ranked 2nd among midfielders for interceptions per 90 (8.94) in the competition, but he also made the third most through passes (10) as well.
Effective on the ball
It’s important to highlight he doesn’t just stand out defensively. McConnell is really effective on the ball. In the Premier League 2, he ranks among the top 10 players for passes to the final third (10.19 per 90).
Meanwhile, for Liverpool’s first team in pre-season and in competitive fixtures this season, McConnell has a 90.7% pass completion rate out of a total of 107 passes attempted in 206 minutes. On average, he’s made 6.55 progressive passes per 90 and 2.18 passes into the penalty area.
And in pre-season for Liverpool he also made the second assist (the pass before the assist) for two goals (one against Karlsruher and one against Darmstadt).
Increased January role?
Without Endo, McConnell’s involvement could increase. Even with the return of Mac Allister, and potentially Thiago as well later on in January – the duo cannot be expected to play all nine potential games.
Naturally, with Bajcetic’s injury, behind Mac Allister and Thiago, McConnell looks next in the pecking order. He’s been in every Liverpool’s matchday squad since Crystal Palace on the 9th December. Which means, there is a good chance he could be called-upon at some point in January.
And if he is, he will be motivated to grab the opportunity with both hands – just as Quansah has done in the aftermath of Joël Matip’s injury.