Danny Ings‘ season-ending knee injury has given young Liverpool Under-23s striker Brooks Lennon a golden opportunity.
Ings was ruled out for up to nine months after damaging the cartilage in his right knee in only his second appearance for the Reds’ first team in 2016/17.
The 24-year-old was largely turning out for Michael Beale’s U23s, due to the intense competition for places up front within Jurgen Klopp‘s squad, behind Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi.
So Ings’ prolonged absence leaves Beale looking elsewhere, and the man tasked with leading the line for the Reds is Lennon.
But who is the young American, what can he offer the U23s in Ings’ absence and what can Liverpool supporters expect from him in the long term?
Liverpool have made some risky forays into the youth market in recent years, taking chances regarding work permits for the likes of Bobby Adekanye and Allan Rodrigues.
Lennon is much the same, having finally completed the move from Real Salt Lake City in 2015.
Having trained with the Reds on and off since 2013—as well as for his academy side in Arizona, scoring 31 goals in 2014/15—Lennon finally obtained an Irish passport through one of his grandparents.
Prior to this, Lennon had trials with Vitoria de Guimaraes and Sporting Lisbon as a youngster, but on opting to join Liverpool, the Reds acquired a hugely promising talent.
It was only by chance that Liverpool were presented with the opportunity to sign the Arizona native, who was scheduled for a trial with another English side, Aston Villa, in 2013.
Heading across the Atlantic early, Lennon met up with a former roommate, Marc Pelosi, who at the time was part of Liverpool’s U21s side, watching the midfielder turn out at Anfield.
There, he began speaking to then-academy director Frank McParland, who invited Lennon to train at Kirkby, and take part in a friendly the next day—the trip to Aston was swiftly cancelled.
Lennon took time to settle in at Liverpool, debuting for the U21s at the end of 2015 and making seven league appearances and two FA Youth Cup outings in total, scoring once.
It is this season, however, Lennon that has started to show the true quality in his game.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Style of Play
“I feel my attributes are breaking the lines and running in behind the defence and scoring goals,” Lennon explained in September.
“I’m good in front of goal and I just need to keep working on different parts of my game that need to be fixed. Hopefully I can do that on the training pitch.”
Lennon is something of a throwback in the pantheon of modern centre-forwards, operating off the shoulder of the opposition’s defence and looking to utilise his pace and intelligent movement to create openings.
As he has shown for Real Salt Lake, Liverpool and the United States’ youth sides, he is an excellent finisher, at his best on his right foot, but also gifted in the air.
He is also comfortable on either wing, beginning life on Merseyside on the flanks before stepping up into the role of No. 9 this season.
There remain areas that Lennon can improve on, as he noted himself, acknowledging that he needed to work on “how I receive the ball and my left foot.”
Adjusting to life in England, and in particular the lone striker role in Beale’s U23 system, also requires Lennon to heighten his physicality, and continue to showcase his work rate.
Against the Toffees, Lennon scored a decisive header, and following his strike against FC Porto in the Premier League International Cup, he has now scored in three consecutive home outings.
This run of form comes at a timely juncture, with Lennon now poised to take over from Ings on a full-time basis.
Replacing Ings, and the Future at Liverpool
Behind Firmino, Sturridge and Origi in the first-team pecking order, and still working his way back to full fitness following last season’s ACL injury, Ings spent the first months of 2016/17 as the U23s’ first-choice striker.
Ings’ presence in the U23s squad was largely beneficial, but as Lennon explained in September, it was a bittersweet balance for him.
“I definitely like watching him when he comes down because I like the way he plays, obviously he’s been on the international level,” he said.
“I definitely have learned a lot just by watching him, learning different things every game, every practice.
“On the other side it definitely is frustrating. When you train all week when game time comes you want to play.
“That’s how life works, you just gotta keep working hard and when your chance comes you’ve got to just capitalise.”
But with Ings now out of picture for the foreseeable future, Lennon is now tasked with replicating the No. 28’s blend of industry and technical quality—which, as his displays against Everton and Porto proved, he is very capable of doing.
Lennon’s competition for a starting role comes in the form of Ben Woodburn and Toni Gomes.
But with the former largely utilised as an attacking midfielder and the latter still a regular for the U18s, he can expect to be afforded considerable playing time in 2016/17.
“Next year my goal is to be practicing with the first team every single day, being the leading scorer for the reserves, and obviously trying to make my first-team debut next season,” Lennon said in April.
Lennon is still a long way off these goals, but following Ings’ injury, he has been given the chance to work his way towards achieving them—and the hard work begins now.