Predicting the future for Harry Wilson & every Liverpool youngster to feature in pre-season 2018

Every pre-season, several promising youngsters at Liverpool get their chance to shine among the seniors—but how did last year’s batch fare thereafter?


It’s one thing to have a strong few outings over the summer, but it’s quite another to maintain that form into the season at U18 or U23 level.

Impressing Jurgen Klopp and his coaches doesn’t start and finish with the whistle in first-team games; it’s about every training session, every incremental improvement, every aspect of a young talent’s game.

Eleven hopefuls were handed time on the pitch alongside the first-team squad almost a year ago.

Here’s a look at how they have fared since then, in order of appearance last summer—plus a new handful who are pushing to do the same in two months’ time.

 

Nat Phillips

CHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 7, 2018: Liverpool's Nathaniel Phillips during a preseason friendly match between Chester FC and Liverpool FC at the Deva Stadium. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Shot to prominence with solid defensive displays in the local friendlies and gave plenty of reason to think he could step up if needed during the season.

Strong, determined, good in the air and brave—though lacking somewhat in agility and pace on the turn.

The season hasn’t gone to plan, though, with injuries leaving him sidelined.

He made just seven appearances for the U23s and only two of those—90 minutes in total on the pitch—coming since September.

Verdict: Down. At 22, it’s time for a loan which needs to go splendidly.

 

Curtis Jones

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Monday, January 7, 2019: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A tricky and exciting player on the ball, Jones showed last summer why he’s highly regarded…and where he needs to improve.

Signs of skill and vision were mixed with delayed moments on the ball and choosing the wrong pass at times.

That has continued into the season, with erratic performances and inconsistency a prevalent theme.

That said, he made his senior debut for the Reds: a huge reward for years of progress.

Verdict: Up, but not as much as he’d like.

 

Ben Woodburn

CHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 7, 2018: Liverpool's Ben Woodburn during a preseason friendly match between Chester FC and Liverpool FC at the Deva Stadium. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Woodburn looked better last year than he had done for several months previously, but still questions remained over his best role as he featured in midfield at times.

A loan move to Sheffield United could have been a big step forward, but it simply didn’t work out: little game time and an early return to Liverpool.

He played five games for the U23s after the turn of the year and looks to be rediscovering form—he could even be on the bench for the Champions League final.

Verdict: Down. Still plenty of time for the 19-year-old to bounce back.

 

Harry Wilson

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - Tuesday, July 10, 2018: Liverpool's substitute Harry Wilson warms-up at half-time during a preseason friendly match between Tranmere Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Prenton Park. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

For the coaches at a club, youngsters’ progress is measured by consistency, ability, maturity and so on.

For those outside the walls, it’s often measured in headlines, goals and rumoured market value.

In the latter categories, there’s no question that Wilson has ticked every box, and then some, in a very productive loan to Derby County.

What Liverpool need to assess now is whether Wilson’s self-belief and output is matched by reliability, intelligence in defensive situations and a genuine ability to play a support role in the first team.

Verdict: Up, up, up. Remains to be seen if that is reflected in responsibility at Anfield, or just in his market worth.

 

Pedro Chirivella

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Friday, August 17, 2018: Liverpool's Pedro Chirivella during the Under-23 FA Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As has been the case over the last couple of years, Chirivella has simply filled in when needed, without any real expectation of it leading to in-season senior involvement.

It’s a mystery why he turned down a move away last summer and his loan to Extremadura in January was a farce—documentation woes meant he couldn’t actually play.

Played every U23 game between August and January, but that’s it.

Verdict: Down. Time to move on for the Spanish 22-year-old.

 

Rafa Camacho

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Monday, January 7, 2019: Liverpool's Rafael Camacho shoots during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

One of the success stories at the academy, he has evolved positionally, grown up in terms of reliability and improved technically.

From a one-dimensional winger at one time, Camacho has gone on to play either flank, in attack as a striker and even right-back for the first team.

His senior and Premier League debuts both came for the Reds in 2018/19…but he has since told the club he won’t sign a new contract.

Verdict: Up…and out. Should fetch £10 million or so.

 

Ryan Kent

CHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 7, 2018: Liverpool's Ryan Kent during a preseason friendly match between Chester FC and Liverpool FC at the Deva Stadium. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Like Wilson, Kent needed a big spell on loan with productive final-third work to prove his talent and line up the suitors, including Liverpool coaches.

His run at Rangers this season has done that, with Kent scoring six and assisting nine in the Scottish Premiership.

Some European experience came his way too and this was a first taste of having a team actually rely on, and believe in, his talents.

Won’t be enough to keep him at Liverpool, though.

Verdict: Up. Probably worth three or four times his valuation of a year ago as a result of a successful loan.

 

Sheyi Ojo

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - Tuesday, July 10, 2018: Liverpool's Sheyi Ojo celebrates scoring the second goal during a preseason friendly match between Tranmere Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Prenton Park. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Where Kent and Wilson has flourished, Sheyi Ojo has only floundered.

A brave move to Ligue 1 and a loan with Stade de Reims started well enough, but he only played 37 minutes in the league from late January to the end of the season.

Soon 22, he needs his next loan deal to have the same level of improvement as Kent did—and a similar move to Rangers has already been rumoured.

Once looked like the most likely member of the youth team to break through under Klopp, but he has stalled over the past couple of years.

Verdict: Down. A summer exit wouldn’t be a surprise, but an extension and loan has been the club’s preferred approach of late.

 

Caoimhin Kelleher

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - Thursday, July 19, 2018: Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during a preseason friendly match between Blackburn Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Ewood Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

From simply a young goalkeeper at the club to the effective third choice for Klopp.

The Irish stopper got his first senior taste of action last summer and looked confident, good on the ball and reliable as a last line of defence.

Has played intermittently for the U23s, but has also been on the bench against Wolves in the FA Cup for the first team.

Verdict: Up. Will get another few outings in pre-season, with Alisson in action over summer at the Copa America.

 

Kamil Grabara

BURY, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 14, 2018: Liverpool's goalkeeper Kamil Grabara during a preseason friendly match between Bury FC and Liverpool FC at Gigg Lane. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Initially in battle with Kelleher for that third spot, Grabara eventually went out on loan to AGF Aarhus in Denmark.

He’s 20, the same as Kelleher, but the Polish ‘keeper has a much greater level of confidence about himself and his game, so first-team football looks the right choice.

Grabara was also on the bench for the Reds against Chelsea in the League Cup defeat in September.

Again, we’ll see more of him over the summer—this time with 15 senior games to his name, and five clean sheets…so far.

He could have another two games to play, with AGF in the Danish Superliga playoff semi-finals for a Europa League spot.

Verdict: Up. A very confident young goalkeeper; much more to come.

 

George Johnston

LONDON, ENGLAND - Friday, August 17, 2018: Liverpool's George Johnston during the Under-23 FA Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at Meadow Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

His appearance in pre-season was the last of the youngsters’, with Johnston playing in the final friendly against Torino at Anfield.

That dream senior debut was followed up by a very steady season with the U23s, establishing himself as a regular starter, making 30 appearances.

Has even been captain of the side and at 20 years of age still has time on his side to improve further with the U23s, or head out on loan.

Verdict: Up. A quietly effective and impressive season of progress.

 

Next in line

SAINT-GERMAIN-EN-LAYE, FRANCE - Wednesday, November 28, 2018: Liverpool's Ki-Jana Hoever before the UEFA Youth League Group C match between Paris Saint-Germain Under-19's and Liverpool FC Under-19's at Stade Georges-LefËvre. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Those players all played last summer—but we’ve seen signs that others could also feature for Klopp, stepping up for a first pre-season involvement with the seniors.

In defence, there’s a case to be made for three players: Ki-Jana Hoever has already debuted at first-team level and regularly trains with the squad, and offers cover at both right- and centre-back.

On the left, unless there’s a very early signing this summer, both Adam Lewis and Yasser Larouci could be handed an opportunity to deputise for Andy Robertson in pre-season.

Into midfield, Leighton Clarkson has been the pick of the bunch at youth level and could be included over summer to see how he fares alongside senior players, though it is unlikely due to his age at 17.

BURY, ENGLAND - Wednesday, March 6, 2019: Liverpool's Jake Cain (R) celebrates scoring the second goal with team-mates Bobby Duncan (L) and captain Paul Glatzel (C) during the FA Youth Cup Quarter-Final match between Bury FC and Liverpool FC at Gigg Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Attack has no shortage of talent in the Kirkby ranks, and Paul Glatzel and Bobby Duncan might be first in line—but with Rhian Brewster certain to feature too, they might still have to wait their turn.

Elsewhere and depending on numbers available from the senior squad in the opening weeks, keep an eye out for deserved progress to first-team action for a couple of weeks from goalkeeper Vitezslav Jaros, midfielder Jake Cain, wide forward Liam Millar and box-to-box loan star Herbie Kane.

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