Neco Williams has made his breakthrough to senior action for Liverpool this season and says two players in particular are to thank for his rise.
The young Welshman has impressed when given the chance in cup competitions, essentially playing the understudy to Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Having made five appearances this term, Williams has impressed fans with his tenacious defending, his willingness to attack and his non-stop energy down the wing.
He has arguably edged ahead of Ki-Jana Hoever over the course of 2019/20, with the Dutchman now perhaps able to focus on his development in the centre as a result, and being yet another Academy graduate to take his first chances under Jurgen Klopp is another example of the excellent work being done by the youth coaches at the club.
Being a defender, albeit an attack-minded one, it might be expected that Neco has taken on board advice and lessons from those in similar positions in the Liverpool team.
Instead, it’s two less-expected names who Williams says have provided him with training ground guidance so far.
Adam Lallana is the first name Williams mentions, with the experienced midfielder keen to cajole and instruct youngsters trying to make their way in the game.
“He’s the one who stood out for me,” Neco told Goal.com. “Every session he would try and help me, ask me stuff, listen to me.
“He’s a character where if you give the ball away he will get at you and tell you, but if you do something good then he’s the first to say well done to you. It’s great to have people like that at Melwood, and that has definitely improved me as a player.
“You need people to push you and keep your standards high. Lallana is excellent at that, he knows when the right time is to praise and the right time to get on to you. He pushes you to your limits.”
While some might find it surprising that Lallana has played this type of mentor role, it’s perhaps not surprising. For starters, Klopp has always spoken of his importance around the dressing room as a senior, and clearly this is an indication of it.
Furthermore, Lallana was one of the few seniors on the pitch with the younger Reds in cup games, meaning maybe that he took it upon himself to guide them closely in training, too.
While Lallana might perhaps be seen as the mental influence, in terms of technical practice there’s only one player Williams needs to train against regularly to help him improve: Sadio Mane.
“Playing against the best players in the world in training can only help me. I’m usually up against Sadio, so that can’t be anything but helpful.
“Training against him every day is definitely going to improve my one-vs-one defending!
“I’ve definitely improved a lot and matured in my game a lot since going up to Melwood.”
Williams still has a way to go before he can truly challenge for a regular place, but one or two hard steps have been taken: moving to the senior training group on a regular basis, and earning the manager’s trust to start games when needed.
As the 18-year-old says, practicing against Mane is one of the best scene-setters he could ask for in terms of dealing with elite forwards on a regular basis.
If he’s impressing in training against that calibre of player, Reds fans can rest assured his development is going exactly according to plan.