Liverpool fans don’t want to get over-excited by pre-season performances, after a lifetime’s worth of Bruno Cheyrou’s and Iago Aspas’, but Rhian Brewster is making a compelling case for future inclusion.
The Reds have a shortened, squashed pre-season ahead of 2020/21, with circumstances dictating the first-team regulars are getting the initial minutes and the squad options play the substitute roles.
It means a few things: we probably already know the starting lineup, or most of it, for the Community Shield and the opening day of the season; the youngsters aren’t all getting two or three games to impress as they usually do; and those who aren’t involved right now – injuries aside – stand a good chance of not being involved at all.
There are two seniors in particular who this asks questions of, with neither Divock Origi nor Xherdan Shaqiri so far involved in the friendlies against Stuttgart and Salzburg.
Of course, there could be injuries, minor knocks or other issues which aren’t public knowledge. But both were training, both were photographed with the squad, both are available attackers. But neither have taken to the pitch, amid rumours of moves away.
Both have played support acts over the past two seasons to the starting trio, and if they move on then the natural inclination would be to imagine a replacement is coming in, quite possibly one very good player to cover both those back-up options.
But it might not be needed in the end, with Jurgen Klopp’s comments about creating “internal transfers” potentially proving critical.
Brewster is getting his chance right now and, while not a perfect, ready-to-go, Premier League starter for the champions at present, he is showing he can impact against good sides and is undoubtedly of top-flight calibre.
It can’t be expected that he steps in for 20 games and replicates Roberto Firmino’s all-round game, but Liverpool don’t usually look for that exact replica.
When Origi comes on as a sub, it’s to change up the approach: more physical through the middle, a direct outlet down the left, a potential goalscorer in big matches.
Brewster can offer similar, but different, traits: runs in behind, relentless closing down, far greater predatory instincts in the penalty box. His goalscoring is top-notch, thanks to a combination of very good use of space and ice-cold composure, whether his finishing is under pressure, first-time or from absolutely miles out. He doesn’t get it right every time, despite what two sub appearances in Austria have suggested, but he also doesn’t let the wayward efforts bother him.
Gini Wijnaldum’s thoughts on the youngster suggest the squad simply expect this level of in-the-box consistency from him now.
“I’m not ‘impressed’, because I know already which kind of quality he has. We trained together for a few years and he showed also in training that his finishing is unbelievable, so I’m not really impressed!”
If Origi is sold, Brewster can likely replicate his output, rather than Firmino’s.
The Belgian scored six times last season, four in the league and two in the cup, and given half a dozen top-flight clubs want him on loan this season there’s clearly an acceptance at the professional level that Brewster is ready to produce at least that tally, if played on a semi-regular basis.
For the first half-season at least, the Reds should be putting that theory to the test. The boss has already said we’ll be looking at more rotation this term, certainly in the early part of the campaign, so minutes will be there for Brewster.
The League Cup comes quickly, while he has game time on his side for the early weeks of the Premier League season, too.
All told, Origi featured for a little over 1,400 minutes last season. Shaqiri managed only just over 250 due to injury, but the year before played 1,400 too. Will Brewster reach that level? Perhaps not, as inexperience and needing to continue learning will play a part there—but Takumi Minamino will.
The Japanese forward is still learning his place in the final third, but in deep areas and build-up play he looks excellent, a real link player the Reds can go through and with big-game experience and expectation from his title-winning time in Austria. Add in his versatility and the fact he’ll play a bigger role than last year in his first half-season, and there’s one replacement who can get 1,500 minutes or more, and (hopefully) a few goals along the way.
In turn, it leaves Brewster with less pressure to play thousands of minutes, and more emphasis on him playing the quick impact, lots of energy, get-a-goal-when-it’s-needed role off the bench.
He can’t only do that, and he can’t be a success with it every time, but it’s the next step he needs to take with Liverpool. Another loan in the Premier League can always be sought in January if the squad can cope without him at that point, but getting him involved is important not just in his technical development, but in his mental one, understanding the level of relentlessness required.
Add in Harvey Elliott’s own improvement and potential for cameo roles and the versatility and increased use of Curtis Jones, and Liverpool have plenty of options who can come in and keep the same level, even if the backups are offloaded.
There’s no question it would still be a risk of sorts. A four-month injury lay-off to any one of the starting three and a different style or system might be needed, unless Minamino really finds his feet. But the big trio are phenomenally resilient as well as consistent, and the club isn’t restricted to the end of August this year for transfers anyway.
By the time the window is getting ready to close, we’ll have played three or four Premier League matches. Brewster might already have had the first chances to show what he can do at this level, and solidify Klopp’s mind about his talented striker for the year, one way or another.
But for now, as games in Austria have shown, Brewster is doing all he can to take the chance presented to him. Another goalscoring cameo appearance at Wembley might be extremely hard to ignore.