It’s that time of year again, dear reader, where hope (hopefully) abounds. Balls are being kicked around Melwood, and James Milner is proving yet again that he is most likely a robot rather than an affable lad from Yorkshire.
But with a couple of preseason games now under our belts (and while I reserve the right to be completely wrong about pretty much everything, including this), it’s probably time to set some realistic(ish) expectations for the youth (and youth-adjacent) players on the fringes of the first team.
Step On Up To The Show
Rhian Brewster is in line to get first team minutes this season as a sub and in cup matches. He is highly rated by Jürgen Klopp and the rest of the back room staff, and has been pipped for an “important role” despite his tender age and the fact that he spent all of last year on the training table (with his bezzie Ox). He’s proven it so far this preseason, albeit against lower level competition. His movement, pressing, ability to set others up, as well as to pop up in the right spot to convert is reminiscent of a certain Roberto Firmino. The hype train has left the station, y’all.
Make It Or Break It
Harry Wilson and his sweet left foot has seen his star on the rise this past year. He had an immensely successful loan with Derby County, which saw Wilson score 16 times and assist 4 more. Wilson showed himself to be a fantastic striker of the ball, both from free kicks and from shots from distance. Questions linger, however, if he fits in with Klopp’s plans, and at 22 it is a stretch to call him a youth prospect any more. If no senior level cover is brought in for Mohammed Salah or Sadio Mané, Wilson seems ready to break through into the first team in a reserve role. On the other hand, if Klopp truly doesn’t see him as a fit for what he wants, Michael Edwards could strike while Wilson’s stock is high and flip him to AFC Bournemouth for approximately Eleventy Billion Pounds.
Sepp van den Berg is a ginger giant of a 17 year old. Despite his youth, he started 10 games and made an additional 5 appearances for PEC Zwolle in the Eredivisie last season. The recent signing is definitely one for the future, but the fact that he’s already been placed on the first team roster suggest he may fill a spot on the bench if we see another injury crisis at the center back position.
Ki-Jana Hoever, the other Dutch 17 year old defender, arrived last season, and has already made a spot start in the FA Cup with the first team. He is silky smooth on the ball, and has shown he can provide cover at right back should (sob) Joe Gomez and/or Trent Alexander-Arnold get injured again. He could see some action again in cup ties.
Break Glass In Case of Emergency
As of now, our left back contingent consists of the incomparable Andy Robertson and right footed central midfielder James Milner. Adam Lewis and Yasser Larouci are both on stand-by should a more senior-level left back not be signed for depth. Lewis has impressed over the last couple of seasons in the U23s, and has been given minutes to prove himself this preseason. He has shown to be a willing runner, and puts in a nice cross. It remains to be seen how good he is as a defender, however, and another season at the U23 level seems most likely.
Yasser Larouci just made the switch to left back last season, but has impressed in his time with the U18’s. His quick feet and ability on the ball against Tranmere and Bradford City has fans salivating. Like Lewis, he hasn’t had to do much defending this preseason. He seems likely destined for one of the youth squads for more seasoning.
The Likely Loanees
Ben Woodburn became the third youngest player to make a debut for Liverpool several seasons ago. The bright start, however, has fizzled, with a loan at Sheffield United terminated halfway through last season after struggles with injuries. Liverpool will likely look for a spot where Woodburn can earn significant minutes this season. While still only 19 years old, Woodburn needs to make the step or he will be surpassed by some of the other midfield talent coming through the Academy.
Speaking of midfield talent, Curtis Jones impressed during the preseason tour last year with his vision and confidence on the ball. While the 18 year old could spend another season training with the first team and competing with the U23 squad, it seems likely Liverpool will search out opportunities for him in the Championship.
Ovie Ejaria, now 21, struggled in the first half of last season while at loan to the Steven Gerard led Rangers in the Scottish Premier League. He did, however, thrive at Reading FC over the second half of the season. It is rumored that he will return to the Championship side this year on loan.
Nathaniel Phillips is another youth-adjacent player who impressed during preseason last year. The 22 year old spent much of last season on the sidelines with an ankle injury, unfortunately. With Hoever and van den Berg also in the picture, though, Phillips and his impressive beard will likely need to look for a loan to secure competitive minutes.
The Michael Edwards Annual Bake Sale
Ryan Kent, Pedro Chirivella, and Taiwo Awoniyi all seem like candidates for Michael Edwards and his magic laptop to flip for profit. Rangers already are hoping they can sign Kent to a loan deal after impressing on loan last season, but Liverpool are shopping Kent around for a permanent deal first.
The 22 year old Chirivella seems like yet another Spanish midfielder who showed promise early, but was never able to break through (pour one out for Suso, y’all). He seems like fodder for a lower-table or lower-tier side in Spain.
While Awoniyi has impressed in a season and a half at Royal Excel Mouscron in the Jupiler League. Unfortunately, he has not been able to secure a work permit, and his series of loans may be at an end with CSKA Moscow among others sniffing around for a permanent deal.
Think Bobby Duncan or Paul Glatzel can make a case for minutes? Does Kamil Grabara step in as the third string keeper or head out on loan? Will Harvey Elliott (and his dubious hairstyle choice) finally sign for Liverpool and make a case for minutes in cup ties? Let us know in the comments who you think can make it into the squad this season.