Each summer, pre-season brings its share of surprises and developments. Breakout stars, formation shifts, position changes. A new year, and with it revised expectations. This summer, for Liverpool, perhaps the main talking point from the first few weeks of pre-season has been Ben Woodburn.
The 17-year-old showed massive promise last season in limited minutes, and finding ways to get the youngster on the pitch more regularly in 2017-18 looks set to be a priority for Jürgen Klopp, who has taken to playing Woodburn at multiple positions to ensure that happens in the coming season.
“Being in the squad, it’s kind of become normal to me,” Woodburn noted this week during a break in training. “The other lads, they treat me like a normal player [now], not like I’m a young kid. It feels normal. They make it easier for me to interact with them and ask for the ball in training and matches.”
With Mohamed Salah having already arrived to add to the club’s depth on the wing and expectations midfield will also be strengthened, being able to fill in at either position will be necessary not just to keep Woodburn on the fringes of the squad—but to potentially have him as a key contributor.
If it comes off, it would essentially see Woodburn fill the role a player like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would had he arrived at the club—third or fourth choice on the wing, and third or fourth choice as the more progressive of the two shuttling midfielders in Klopp’s high-press 4-3-3 system.
“I like playing in centre mid, but I like playing on the wing as well,” Woodburn added. “I just like playing anywhere, really! I am only young and I don’t want to put one position to my name. I still don’t know which my best position is—I don’t think anybody does at the moment.
“There are a few things I am looking to improve on right now. A big difference between youth and senior football is that you’ve got to be mature in how you play, so that’s what I am trying to do. There are decisions within games you can get away with in the youth teams, but in the senior side you can’t.
“I also want to improve my fitness levels because obviously here at Liverpool, pressing is one of the main parts of our game, so I want to get good at that because that’s how we play.”