Jurgen Klopp‘s use of his young midfielders in recent weeks has provided insight into their future roles under at Liverpool.
Klopp has utilised these closing games of the Premier League season as something of an exercise in juggling talent.
With all eyes on Liverpool’s exploits in the Europa League – a final clash against Sevilla to come at Basel’s St. Jakob-Park – Klopp has employed a rotational approach to the league.
Against Stoke City, Bournemouth, Newcastle United, Swansea City and Watford since the beginning of April, Klopp has called upon the likes of Connor Randall, Sheyi Ojo and Kevin Stewart to flesh out his squad.
But while this is likely designed to protect his key players for more important clashes with Borussia Dortmund, Villarreal and now Sevilla, the manager will also have learned a lot from this exercise.
As he prepares for a formative summer, his first on Merseyside, a host of young midfielders have given Klopp options for the future.
As the move to shear Jose Enrique from the wage bill just under two months before his contract expired, there begins the major cull of Klopp’s ranks this summer.
While the German has continually stressed his faith in his current crop, it will be another off-season overhaul on Merseyside.
Joining this exodus are likely to be two players previously believed to be primed for a bright future at Liverpool: 19-year-old academy star Jordan Rossiter and Portuguese No. 10 Joao Carlos Teixeira.
Like Enrique, both see their contracts run out at the end of the season.
But while the Spaniard’s departure was inevitable, the decision to scythe Rossiter and Teixeira will have been a more measured one from Klopp.
Rossiter was, for a long period, one of the brightest talents in the Reds’ academy setup, touted for a prominent role in the first team, with comparisons drawn with former captain Steven Gerrard.
But having made just four senior appearances this season and dogged by hamstring injuries, Rossiter is poised to join Glasgow Rangers ahead of 2016/17.
Teixeira’s fruitful loan spell with Brighton & Hove Albion in 2014/15 hinted at a possible first-team role at Anfield this term, but despite some promising displays in cup competition, he has failed to establish himself, last featuring as an unused substitute away to Swansea.
The 23-year-old has showcased a drop in performance for the U21s in recent weeks, and will join Rossiter on the scrapheap, searching for a new club after this summer’s Olympics.
But while this double departure highlights the cut-throat nature of top-level youth development, it also shows Klopp’s ruthless edge, with the 48-year-old having nurtured alternatives from his young ranks.
Losing the tenacity, tactical intelligence and commitment of Rossiter and the guile, finesse and creativity of Teixeira could be a blow to clubs with a lesser academy setup.
But as Klopp’s use of the likes of Stewart and Cameron Brannagan in the second half of the season proves, Liverpool are well placed to move forward from their departures.
While it can certainly be argued that a top-level midfielder should arrive this summer, with Ilkay Gundogan, Granit Xhaka and Mahmoud Dahoud among those linked with the Reds, Klopp’s squad ranks can be fleshed out by these young talents.
Stewart, in particular, has underlined that with his displays at the base of Klopp’s midfield since the beginning of April.
But with Stewart returning from injury to produce a solid, composed display alongside Joe Allen and James Milner, Klopp had found a solution.
The former Tottenham Hotspur prospect has now started five of the Reds’ last six league games, suggesting that he is far from a mere stand-in to be cast aside when reinforcements are made and more important players are fit.
Meanwhile, Brannagan’s pair of substitute appearances against Swansea and Watford in May have pointed to a talent of huge potential.
His incisive, creative work operating on the right-hand side of Klopp’s attacking midfield against the Hornets in particular, creating two great openings in 12 minutes on the field, showed an immediate improvement on the fleeting promise of Teixeira.
A midfielder blessed with supreme technique, a mature understanding of the game and an authority practised in his role as captain of Liverpool’s U21s, Brannagan is poised for a bright future under Klopp.
Joining Brannagan and Stewart in squad roles in 2016/17 will be 19-year-old Serbian star Marko Grujic who, fresh off the back of title success in the SuperLiga, will slot into a box-to-box role in the Liverpool midfield.
While Grujic may take longer to settle in, establishing this trio as genuine squad options with define roles will prove beneficial ahead of what is likely to be another busy campaign.
Rather than plucking players from the academy as and when, Klopp is fostering a bright future, with consistency for his youngsters.
For this, Klopp will be required to call upon his young ranks to fill in for FA Cup, League Cup and certain Premier League clashes, with their continued development ensuring no concerns if they are fielded in bigger games, too.
For some, of course, this transition will be rockier, with Pedro Chirivella‘s struggle away to Swansea at the beginning of May suggesting the need for a loan move in 2016/17.
But with Klopp identifying the 18-year-old as a “wonderful player” following that defeat at the Liberty Stadium, the Liverpool manager set in motion another cycle of youth development.
From what initially felt like a desperate clawing together of talent during January’s mass loan recall, Klopp’s young midfielders now seem to fit into a long-term plan at Liverpool.
This is set to continue next season, with Stewart, Brannagan and Grujic the immediate beneficiaries.