Liverpool are yet to decide on their next move with Rhian Brewster, but if talks with Sheffield United result in a loan, they could have landed the ideal club for their No. 24.
After an impressive half-season with Swansea which continued into pre-season with the Reds, Brewster looked primed for a first-team role at Anfield in 2020/21.
But Jurgen Klopp has explained that it is a complicated situation with the 20-year-old, whose prodigious talent may require more minutes than are available in a backup role at Liverpool in order to be nurtured properly.
“We want to use Rhian, but we want to help Rhian as well, so that’s why we have to make these decisions. But not now, obviously,” he said at the end of August.
“He looks really promising, I know goals are the most important thing in the football world, so if he can score goals that’s good.
“And all the rest, we will see. He’s still a young boy, and especially on this No. 9 position, experience helps a lot.
“We have see how we can give him the experience. Is it here? Is it somewhere else? It’s not decided yet, why should we?”
Brewster was not included in the matchday squad for the Premier League opener against Leeds, but was involved a day later as Liverpool’s fringe players were held to a 1-1 friendly draw by Huddersfield B.
Meanwhile, talks were ongoing with Sheffield United over a possible season-long loan, with Chris Wilder said to have presented a “detailed development plan” to convince Klopp the right place for Brewster would be Bramall Lane.
There is still a chance the striker departs on a permanent deal, with a £25 million fee mooted provided a buy-back clause is also agreed, but ideally, if he is to leave, it would only be temporarily.
United are not the only side interested in Brewster, of course, with Aston Villa, Newcastle, Burnley, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford and Swansea all having contacted Liverpool at some stage this summer.
Many of those could now have pulled out, namely Villa and Newcastle, who have since sanctioned big-money moves for other strikers, but the competition is clearly fierce.
This makes any decision more difficult for Liverpool, but Wilder is correct: Sheffield is the perfect next step for Brewster.
Wilder’s style & Brewster the solution
The most obvious plus-point is, in fact, Wilder himself, who has proved one of the most progressive managers in English football in leading United to the Premier League and, last season, a ninth-placed finish.
Operating with a squad of low-profile talents, the 52-year-old has instilled a high-intensity, diverse approach involving overlapping centre-backs and a variety of systems in attack.
It is a style that has earned the admiration of Klopp, who said in February that “you can’t have anything but respect” for the way he has coaxed such a humble squad of players to the level they are now operating.
The feeling is mutual, with Wilder admitting after United’s 2-0 loss at Anfield in January that he “loves everything about” Liverpool.
“The way they go about [the game], tactical and technical players, but the top bit, the physical and mental part of it, is amazing,” he told BT Sport.
“And if that’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for anyone else.”
This “physical and mental” aspect is an area which Klopp is looking to improve in Brewster, explaining in pre-season that “we want more in the game when he is on the pitch.”
While Brewster certainly puts himself about, as evidenced by the seven yellow cards to go along with his 11 goals in 22 games for Swansea, the Liverpool manager clearly believes he must offer a lot more if he is to fill in for Roberto Firmino.
Tellingly, two of Wilder’s forwards finished in the top five for average tackles per 90 minutes across the Premier League last season.
No striker averaged more than David McGoldrick (1.9), while only three averaged more than Oli McBurnie (1.4); when it came to interceptions, McBurnie topped the league with 0.5 per 90.
To hone this area of his game in Sheffield, while also continuing to provide the cutting edge that has made him such a coveted young striker, could give him the platform to break into the Reds squad in the future.
And there is an opening in Wilder’s squad up front, as he conceded this month that he is “definitely looking to improve and get one at the top of the pitch to give us that quality.”
United currently call upon McBurnie, McGoldrick, Lys Mousset and Billy Sharp as their primary options, with McBurnie and Sharp starting in their 2-0 loss to Wolves at the start of the new Premier League campaign.
Mousset is sidelined with an injury and McGoldrick is short of fitness, and with McBurnie and Sharp failing to fire in the season opener, a clear flaw in Wilder’s setup was highlighted.
Last season, the quartet shared out the minutes, with no striker playing more than 2,200 in the league; McBurnie (2,118) was most frequently used, but McGoldrick (1,824), Mousset (1,232) and Sharp (1,047) were not too far behind.
By way of comparison, Firmino clocked 3,004 minutes, or the equivalent of nearly 10 full games more than any of Wilder’s options up front.
As a result, no United player netted more than six goals in all competitions last season, with McBurnie and Mousset joint-top scorers, while their next-highest contributors were midfielders John Lundstram and John Fleck, with five.
While a rotational system in attack has its benefits, it is clear that there is a lack of goals in Wilder’s side—they finished last season with a goal difference of zero, with only Norwich (26), Crystal Palace (31), Watford (36) and Newcastle (38) scoring fewer than their 39.
With goals at a premium and Brewster having proven himself as a prolific striker, there is no surprise United are desperate to bring him in for the campaign.
Woodburn’s precautionary tale
A possible red flag in negotiations with Liverpool could be the neglect of Ben Woodburn during the Welshman’s loan spell at Bramall Lane in 2018.
Woodburn arrived in Sheffield as an alternative to Kieran Dowell and it showed, with Wilder affording him just eight appearances across the Championship and League Cup, amounting to a paltry 244 minutes before his deal was terminated mid-season.
But Wilder has shown he is not averse to appointing loanees to high-profile roles in his side if they deserve them, as displayed with Dean Henderson’s place as No. 1 on loan from Man United over the past two seasons.
Given the precarious situation of the market this summer, short-term deals are likely to be favoured by a number of sides, though Liverpool will no doubt negotiate a substantial loan fee if Brewster is to head to Sheffield.
There, he should be guaranteed a leading role, battling with McBurnie as the primary option at centre-forward, for a club with aspirations of another top-half finish or, perhaps, even breaking into Europe.
He may not find that elsewhere, with Palace, who are still said to be in talks with the Reds, having already signed Michy Batshuayi on loan, while Newcastle and Villa have brought in Callum Wilson and Ollie Watkins for big-money fees.
Brighton is another sensible option, as their inability to convert chances on the way to a 3-1 loss to Chelsea at the start of their campaign proved, but United remains the most desirable location.
The ideal breeding ground
This is, as it should be, primarily due to the opportunity to develop Brewster’s game as an all-round, pressing centre-forward, rather than the poacher he was relied upon as at Swansea.
It is in attaining this quality, and mindset, that holds the secret to a long-term future at Liverpool, as though many fans are already sold on the ability of the Reds’ No. 24, Klopp is clearly yet to be fully convinced.
A season under Wilder at United would certainly not hurt his value either way, and the hope would be that he would return from Bramall Lane a more fully formed striker, finally able to adequately cover for one of world football’s most unique forwards in Firmino.