Last season a number of youth players made major breakthroughs, both into the senior squad and the collective consciousness of those of us following the youth ranks. One of the goals here is to keep track of the youth players most deserving of our attention. Here is a look at some of those who have a good chance of contributing to the Under 21 team in the upcoming season, roughly in order of my expectation of them. Note that I've excluded some players who, though they may play a role in the U21s, are familiar enough to many of us by now as a result of having played significantly with the senior side. Similarly, some younger players may be involved in the U21 squad, especially during the NextGen Series, but will spend the bulk of their time in the U18s, and I'll cover them when we talk about that squad next week.
Major Contributors to U21s/Could Enter Senior Squad Picture
Jordon Ibe (Turns 18 in December): Ibe came on very strongly in the second half of the season for the U21s and earned his senior squad debut on the season's final day against QPR. Ibe should be the star of this season's U21s and, if he can develop into a more regular goal-scoring threat, is likely to force his way into Brendan Rodgers' thinking for some appearances throughout the year. Ibe has a fairly mature game for his age, combining strong, slaloming dribbling with excellent vision and linkup play with his fellow attackers. Under-21s manager Alex Inglethorpe wants Ibe to model his game after Cristiano Ronaldo, and in particular Ronaldo's ability to find his way to the back post for easy tap-ins. Already an exciting prospect, Ibe could become a first-team squad player this year if he can incorporate this element into his game.
Ryan McLaughlin (Turns 19 in September): After earning minutes in Liverpool's preseason tour last summer, the Northern Irish right-back had a promising showing in the U21s last season. As the season progressed he gained confidence in his ability to run at opposing full-backs and into dangerous positions. Though his defensive positioning needs some work, he's a constant threat down the right flank, which is very much what Rodgers wants in a fullback. The highlight of his season came during the must-win NextGen Series match versus Inter, in which he won two penalties and assisted a Yesil goal in beautiful fashion after an incredible run and pass from Ibe (highlight of the entire match below). Look for McLaughlin to be a regular starter for the U21s and, depending on the transfer activity of the senior side, to make a bench appearance or two.
Dani Pacheco (Turned 22 in January): I debated whether to include him here because, for one reason or another, Pacheco can't seem to win over a first-team manager. However, it can't be denied that the Spaniard was outstanding for the U21s last year, scoring 5 goals in 11 league appearances before going on loan to Huesca. Combining clever passing, movement, and dribbling, Pacheco was at times the only creative outlet for the U21s during the first half of the season and, if not for some wasteful finishing, could have had a much larger goal-tally. I honestly have no idea what to expect from Pacheco this year, but the likely bet would be another loan to a Spanish side.
Adam Morgan (Turned 19 in April): It's easy to forget how young Morgan is because he's seemingly been in the picture for so long. The local striker came up through the academy and earned his senior debut this season, as well as a handful of high-profile admirers of his natural finishing ability. The adoration proved well-deserved, as Morgan led the U21s in scoring for the season despite spending one month on loan at Rotherham United. I think Morgan has more to his game than just goal-poaching, though--he was moved to the right-wing for much of last season to accommodate Michael Ngoo and Samed Yesil, and, while clearly not a natural winger, he showed a high work-rate and ability in possession. He is also very adept at collecting, turning, and shooting accurately from just outside the area. All in all, I think Morgan is more talented than some give him credit for, but may not possess the necessary physical tools to succeed at the Premier League level. Prime candidate to go on loan again this year.
Joao Carlos Teixeira (Turned 20 in January): The player I am perhaps most excited about this coming season, Teixeira signed from Sporting Lisbon for around £1m after impressing Liverpool scouts in the NextGen Series two seasons ago and immediately began rehabbing a long-term back injury. The gifted Portuguese central midfielder finally made his U21 debut in October 2012, and won a starting role in the team in January before asserting himself as one of the star performers for the side. Teixeira is best with the ball at his feet, and possesses a striking calmness in crowded areas. After Academy director Frank McParland hailed Teixeira as a potential "top, top player", if he can stay healthy and progress as he has, it would not be surprising to see Rodgers give Teixeira a chance next spring.
Samed Yesil (Turned 19 in May): Blessed with a great first-touch and predatory instincts, German youth international Samed Yesil has notched a frankly ridiculous goal-scoring record for his national youth sides. After transferring from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, Yesil made his hotly anticipated debut for the U21s in September and scored 4 goals in his first 5 matches for the side—as well as making his senior squad debut—before tearing his ACL while on international duty. Alex Inglethorpe likened Yesil to German legend Gerd Müller due to his ability to pop up with goals even after extremely quiet stretches, and as long as he's able to make a full recovery, he's likely to be the primary striker for the U21s.
Conor Coady (Turned 20 in February): Another young Scouser who has been around forever but has only just turned 20, the central midfielder came into the season with major question marks surrounding his future, but made great strides last year, making his premier league debut at the tail end of the season. He's a composed passer, impeccable penalty taker, and a natural leader, being selected as captain at nearly every level thus far for both club and country. The big knock on Coady has been his lack of athleticism and pace, but it felt like he has improved in that area over the past two seasons. Strong both on the ball and in the tackle, as well as positionally sound, Coady filled in at center half at times, drawing comparisons to Jamie Carragher along the way. After a much improved campaign he has the attention of Brendan Rodgers, and will likely be given a chance to prove himself in the preseason, but is another loan candidate.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at those who will likely be key members of the U21 setup, but might not be as close to having an influence in the first-team setup.