Can Jayden Danns End Liverpool’s Academy Striker ‘Curse’?

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Liverpool’s Academy Striker ‘Curse’

After the glorious years in 1990s, when Liverpool’s academy produced two of the best strikers to have played in the Premier League in Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler, the ensuing years have been a barren era.

For decades now Liverpool’s academy has been searching for the ‘next Owen’ or the ‘next Fowler’ but to no avail. There’s been plenty of promising strikers who have caught the eye in the academy. From Adam Morgan, who was scoring goals for fun before leaving to join Yeovil Town to Jerome Sinclair, who became one of the youngest ever players to debut for Liverpool’s first team and Rhian Brewster, who top-scored the U17 World Cup for England – but no one has been able to follow in the footsteps of Owen and Fowler. Neil Mellor came the closest but even he merely made 12 appearances in the Premier League for Liverpool.

It means that almost three decades since Michael Owen made his debut for the club, Liverpool are still searching for the next forward to break through into the first team from the academy. But could that be about to change?

Something Different About Jayden Danns

Walking off the Anfield turf on Wednesday night, Jayden Danns received an emotional embrace from Jurgen Klopp only to be disrupted by an incredulous Rob Edwards, who exclaimed: ‘I played with his dad.’

For Liverpool that remark was a reminder of just how young Danns is. He only turned 18-years-old last month. Coming on against Luton Town, he became the 11th youngest player to debut for Liverpool’s first team in the league, beating Trent Alexander-Arnold by a month and two days to that distinction.

Yet despite his age, Danns didn’t look out of place at all during the few minutes he spent on the pitch. If anything he made his moments count, including setting-up the chance for Liverpool’s fourth goal sending a brilliant through ball to Cody Gakpo with the outside of his foot.

Danns seemed to take to senior football like a duck to water. Just like Conor Bradley, Jarell Quansah and a host of other academy graduates. We’ve seen it with Bradley and Quansah there seems to be something different about this new generation. A level of confidence we don’t often see from young players coming into senior football for the first time. Danns was yet more proof of that on Wednesday night.

Jayden Danns’ Profile

Having played a lot of his career at academy level in midfield (he actually still plays as a midfielder for England’s U18 side) Danns possess a really unique profile as a forward. Both tall and strong, he’s difficult to shrug off the ball and he is able to use his body really well to shield the ball from his opponents. At the same time he also has the speed and the technical ability to excel in one vs one situations.

Having learned his trade at a midfielder, Danns often likes to drop back into midfield even when playing as a striker. He will peel off his defenders, hold them off and wait for overlapping runners to send through on goal.

A good example of this is a recent play he made against Newcastle United’s U21 side. Danns received the ball surrounded by defenders. But he managed to hold it up, and wait for the incoming runner, who was Bobby Clark.

Once Clark got ahead of him, Danns weighted a nice through pass which allowed the Liverpool midfielder to break into the opposition’s penalty area and send the ball across goal.

Another fine example is Danns’ assist to Lewis Koumas for Liverpool’s seventh goal in the FA Youth Cup against Arsenal. Again Danns dropped back, held the ball up and sent a perfectly weighted through ball to Koumas, who then ended-up finishing the chance.

Danns averages just over 1.21 through passes per 90 for Liverpool this season as per Wyscout – quite a high volume for a striker. It’s a clear strength in his game, and definitely something he will have picked up by honing his trade as a midfielder.

Danns – Pressing Machine

Even on his ability to drop back alone it’s easy to see why according to Danns he has often been compared to Roberto Firmino in his ‘younger days.’ But that’s not the only area where Danns has shades of Firmino in him.

Over the last season the youngster has worked a lot on his pressing game, and the fruits of his labours are there to see. Danns is deceptively fast, and he is exceptional at smothering his opponents.

One of his best goals scored at academy level this season was a long-range finish against Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup that came about because of his rapid counter-pressing ability.

Within seconds Danns approaches his opponent anticipating that he will receive the ball.

When his opponent does receive the ball Danns accelerates forcing him to make a mistake and give-up possession.

Danns then quickly pounces on the ball, realises that the goalkeeper is off his line and finishes with precision.

But this is not the only instance. Against Newcastle United at the weekend in the Premier League 2, Liverpool’s first goal again came from really good pressing from Danns.

In that game Danns again anticipates an opportunity to win the ball when Newcastle try to play out from the back. Once again using his speed he closes down his opponent in the matter of seconds.

This forces the Newcastle defender into a mistake, which sees Danns win the ball.

He quickly turns, breaks into the opposition’s penalty area and then sends a brilliant through pass to Trey Nyoni for an easy finish.

What was really encouraging to see against Luton was that Danns’ skills immediately translated well into senior level as well. The role he played in Liverpool’s fourth goal all came from his pressing game, and reacting quickly to a loose ball.

The chance started out with Andy Robertson trying to send Danns through on goal. However that pass was intercepted. Immediately, both Robertson and Danns quickly reacted to close down Luton’s defender and win the ball back. Danns got hold of possession, shrugged his man off to turn to face goal and sent a trademark through pass into Cody Gakpo.

Nightmare For Defenders

Given Danns’ pressing and ability to drop back, he is really difficult to read for defenders. Due to his frame and speed, Danns is also able to run behind his opponents and he is capable of going on long runs as well. When he is in full flow, he’s difficult to stop. It’s no surprise that he averages 4.76 dribbles per 90, and 1.73 progressive runs.

A recent example was against Newcastle’s U21 side when Danns received the ball just past the halfway line and ran all the way into the penalty box where he skipped past two players to win a penalty for the young Reds.

But he doesn’t just drop deep, and make these forward runs. Danns is a fox in the box as well. There’s a reason why he has scored 21 goals in 22 games at academy level this season.

He is a ruthless finisher, who takes a high volume of shots. This season he has averaged 3.38 shots per 90, and he gets an impressive 48.7% on target.

If you look at his recent goals a lot of them have come from inside the penalty area. However, Danns is very much capable of scoring from long distance. He’s scored some stunning free-kick goals this season, including one against Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup. And that range is such an encouraging aspect for a young striker.

Early Days

It’s important to remind ourselves, this is early days. Danns has only played a few minutes at senior level. But there is no denying he is a really exciting prospect.

He’s got all the traits you need as a modern forward in the game. On top of that he comes from a footballing family with his father, Neil having also played in the Premier League and captained Guyana at international level. That background will help him in his development.

Liverpool’s academy hasn’t had success bringing through strikers in the last few years. It’s probably one of the most difficult positions to break into the first team in. However, with Danns there is a possibility that he could finally break the ‘curse.’

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