Football Features

Can Klopp’s kids save Liverpool’s summer?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:51, 2 September 2020

Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020.

By any reasonable measure, they’re flying right now. The Reds are one of the very best teams in the world, capable of winning football matches in any manner of different ways. They steamrollered the Premier League last season and were so dominant they could even afford to basically drop into relegation form for the final stretch and still canter their way to victory.

However, greatness is only ever sustained through continued improvement and evolution. In football terms that means both a tactical evolution to keep opponents on their toes and also by bringing in new players to avoid a side becoming predictable and stale.

We can’t be sure if Liverpool are going to do the former (though given their last tactical evolution, which has brought them 196 points in two seasons, plus two major titles, they probably aren’t out to change a winning formula) but they certainly aren’t doing too much of the latter.

Since hoisting the Champions League in May 2019, Liverpool have signed six players for a combined outlay of around £20m. Of those players, two are back-up goalkeepers and two are teenagers for the youth systems. That leaves just Takumi Minamino and Kostas Tsimikas as first-team signings for the Reds since they won the Champions League.

That is playing with fire. The Reds have been lucky that besides Alisson’s injury woes, they’ve not lost any of their key players for a considerable amount of time over the last two seasons. But that does mean that these players will need more rest at some point; you can’t run forever. Breaks will have to come and the question then is: who steps in?

Yes Liverpool are chasing Thiago Alcantara, and that would be a fabulous transfer, but they reportedly pulled out of a deal to sign Timo Werner when the German had supposedly been begging the Reds to take him to Anfield. They didn’t entertain Philippe Coutinho’s pleas for a return, and have shown precious little interest in pushing the boat out and adding, say, Jadon Sancho to their incredible attacking unit.

It’s one thing to trust your squad as is and maintain harmony by changing as little as possible, it’s another to let a good thing go on too long. Everyone liked Old Town Road the first time they heard it, but by the 100th time it had begun to tear at our psyche like a bad dream.

Here’s the thing, though, do Liverpool need to spend to reinvigorate the squad? To add fresh blood and new impetus to the side? Your instincts would be to say yes, but look closer at how things are going at Anfield. Look specifically at young players.

Liverpool’s academy is hardly La Masia, but it has produced some gems. Trent Alexander-Arnold for one. But beyond him there is a crop of youngsters coming through, three of which have the quality to add the new impetus and squad depth that many feel is only attainable in the transfer market. But, which of Liverpool’s bright starlets should Klopp be paying special attention to?

Neco Williams

Williams is a flying right-back who by all rights should be the talk of Merseyside. The problem for the 19-year-old is that the guy in front of him in the team isn’t some 30+ veteran but a 21-year-old Alexander-Arnold, the jewel of Anfield.

But Alexander-Arnold can’t play all the time. He’s avoided injury these last two seasons but that run of good fortune won’t last (in fact he missed the Community Shield defeat to Arsenal through injury) and the thing with Alexander-Arnold is, he’s fundamental to how Liverpool play.

Liverpool need attacking production from their right-back, the entire team is designed around it, and so Williams being able to play when called upon is going to be huge for Klopp during what is sure to be a long, hard season.

Curtis Jones

Liverpool’s front three is one of the very best in world football, but even they can’t score all of Liverpool’s goals. You need midfielders to chip in. Liverpool have used Gini Wijnaldum in that role, but he’s in the last year of his contract with no renewal in sight. Moreover, Adam Lallana has just left the club and he could always be relied upon to pop up with a goal (in fact his only goal of the season was a late equaliser at Old Trafford) so what can Liverpool do about that?

Turn to Curtis Jones, of course. A proud scouser who’s been at Liverpool since the age of nine, Jones emerged in 2019/20 during Liverpool’s cup runs. His scorching strike from distance settled a Merseyside Derby; he was later named Liverpool’s youngest-ever captain when he skippered the side against Shrewsbury, and he even scored his first Premier League goal too. He’s got a will of iron and given that he’s wearing the no. 17 shirt, previously worn by Steve McManaman and Steven Gerrard when they were breaking through, you can expect big things from this young gun even if Thiago signs.

Rhian Brewster

Finally: attack. Liverpool are said to have passed up on the opportunity to sign Werner, which allowed Chelsea to swoop. They have never seriously engaged with Sancho, nor do they look set to swoop and sign him whilst Manchester United dither over the price. So what are they doing? Well, they’re heaping more pressure on Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané; but perhaps they’re also trusting Rhian Brewster.

The youngster spent last season on loan at Swansea where he scored 11 times in 22 appearances. He’s a natural striker but has the athletic ability to play either of the wide positions should Klopp ask that of him. Unlike Divock Origi, Brewster is just 20 so has massive room for improvement. His every performance, even the sluggish ones, drive him forward as a player.

Not that he’s been sluggish of late. In this pre-season he has scored three goals in two games, including a brace against Salzburg to save Liverpool from embarrassing defeat. He came off the bench in the Community Shield and played well, but was unlucky to hit the bar with his penalty kick in the shootout. His error ultimately cost Liverpool the trophy, but there is no doubt he is ready to help Liverpool make it through the long haul of the season.

Obviously the likes of Ki-Jana Hoever, Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliot are quality talents too; but they’re not quite ready to be featured on a semi-regular basis for the first-team as the above trio are. They are still prospects, whilst Williams, Jones and Brewster could contribute to Liverpool’s fortunes directly in this upcoming season.

No one is saying Klopp shouldn’t explore more options in the transfer market, but with Liverpool’s owners reticent to spend for the sake of spending, these Liverpool kids could come through the ranks and save the Reds’ season by becoming productive members of the squad. And who knows? They may even help the Reds retain or regain one (or both) of the major trophies.