After Jerome Sinclair made his Premier League debut against Chelsea, Jack Lusby selects three other Liverpool Academy stars who should follow him onto the field this season.
While a lacklustre affair on the whole, Sunday’s 1-1 draw away to Chelsea saw one nod to Liverpool’s bright future in Jerome Sinclair making his Premier League debut.
The 18-year-old Academy striker replaced Rickie Lambert on 67 minutes, joining Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe in attack — the trio represent a spectacular new generation of youth graduates on Merseyside.
“It’s an absolute dream come true,” expressed Sinclair post-match.
“I know there’s a lot more young players coming through and they’re all going to be good enough to play for Liverpool, so the future is really bright.
“All the young players at Liverpool know that we really do have a chance.”
With just two games to go for the Reds this season, and nothing to play for having consolidated a fifth-placed finish, who else should follow Sinclair in being offered a Premier League debut?
While the U21s are set to travel to a tournament in Holland and Germany over the coming days, there is no indication which players will join the group and who will remain in Rodgers’ squad.
Here are three candidates who could feature in the league against Crystal Palace and Stoke City.
With Liverpool decidedly light in midfield towards the end of this season, with Emre Can shifted into defence and Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard both having spells on the sidelines, 18-year-old Academy captain Cameron Brannagan has featured on Rodgers’ bench on six occasions so far.
While he is yet to make his first-team bow, his presence behind Rodgers at away fixtures against Besiktas and Arsenal highlights the manager’s view of the midfielder.
Brannagan is a tenacious box-to-box midfielder who is developing a familiar knack for being in the right place at the right time on the edge of the opposition penalty area.
Goals: Liverpool U21 2-1 Leicester City U21 http://t.co/HpTZW1V3T6
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 4, 2015
His long-range strikes against Leicester City U21s and Norwich City U21s in recent weeks have more than a hint of Gerrard about them.
Brannagan’s Melwood training seems to have primed him for a first-team berth, as he highlighted the influence of Gerrard:
“Moving up to Melwood, Steven has been great with me. He’s always happy to talk and has given me advice on positioning and so on.
Other senior players such as Lucas and Kolo Toure have also been really helpful. Their advice is just what you need as a young player because they’ve been there and done it. I want to learn from players like them and hopefully have half the careers that they’ve had.”
Brannagan has visibly improved since being promoted to the first-team picture, with his all-round performances for the U21s showing a maturity and tactical intelligence.
Rodgers clearly appreciates his work rate, and perhaps Brannagan could replace Gerrard late on in the next two games—the captain can pass the baton to another midfielder with a bright future.
While Brannagan adds industry in the midfield, Sheyi Ojo could be another option, like Sinclair, who could provide youthful energy and dynamism to Liverpool’s attack without deviating from Rodgers’ preferred style of play.
The 17-year-old is a physically mature, athletic player capable of playing all across the midfield, but has also shown for the U21s of late his ability in the centre-forward’s role.
Making two appearances on Rodgers’ bench over the festive period, Ojo represented an unpredictable attacking option at a time when Liverpool’s squad was bereft of one.
Ojo spent some of 2014/15 on loan with Wigan Athletic, and performed well when called upon— the 17-year-old made 11 league appearances for the Latics, but his progress was stunted somewhat by their ill-fated battle with relegation.
Nevertheless, in games such as Wigan’s 3-1 loss away the Bournemouth in February, Ojo showed enough to consider this a fruitful experience, with his vitality a useful feature.
Ojo completed 50 percent of his attempted dribbles in a Wigan shirt, a success rate similar to that of Raheem Sterling (50%), Daniel Sturridge (52%), Lazar Markovic (53%) and Jordon Ibe (54%); his confidence on the ball will fit in well with the rest of Rodgers’ attack.
Ojo’s favourite Liverpool player is said to be Philippe Coutinho, and the midfielder could well line up alongside the Brazilian before the season’s through.
He could come on for a tiring Adam Lallana, for example, but his ability arguably warrants a starting role.
Like Ojo, Ryan Kent is another who has returned to the Liverpool U21s picture and hit top form, with the 18-year-old recovering from serious injury to make a mark in the Academy side’s ultimately failed bid for the U21s Premier League.
On his return, Kent signed a new long-term contract with the club, extended an already 11-year spell on Merseyside.
U21s manager Michael Beale praise Kent on the signing of his new deal, declaring: “Ryan is a really exciting player and can play in a number of positions.”
Kent has proved just how exciting and versatile he is in these attacking areas of late.
Primarily deployed at either left or right wing, Kent is a pacey, direct forward with confidence to run at opposition defences and take shots on from audacious angles—his two goals in the recent 3-1 win over Everton U21s are a perfect example of this.
Kent has scored six goals and made four assists in 16 U21s Premier League games this season.
Rodgers is clearly a fan, as he recently said: “Ryan is a young player who has done really, really well of late and he’s really maturing into a real talent.”
Kent has definitely matured of late, and could easily slot into the Liverpool first-team forward line in one of the roles that Sterling, Ibe, Lallana and Markovic have operated in for much of the season.
Statistics via Squawka and TransferMarkt.
Which Liverpool Academy players should be given their Premier League debut before the end of the season? Let us know in the comments below.