Homegrown targets Liverpool could consider for squad quota numbers

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Liverpool made good moves to fill the holes in the squad they needed this summer, but one of our earliest moves was unsuccessful – and maybe hints at the plan of what’s the come.

A left-back was a priority requirement for Jurgen Klopp, to give natural cover and competition to first-choice Andy Robertson.

Kostas Tsimikas is that man, with the Greek yet to really impact after signing due to illness and injury, as well as two international breaks so far…and counting.

But, over time, he’ll integrate more into the side and will no doubt play a vital role in a supporting act, as so many have done after a few months working with the boss – but before he signed from Olympiacos, Liverpool made a move for Jamal Lewis.

An agreement couldn’t be found with Norwich City, and he has since moved on to Newcastle for a few million more than the Reds were keen to pay, but it’s notable that with both players more or less on a level playing field for the recruitment side, it’s the Northern Ireland international they bid for first.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - Tuesday, August 25, 2020: Liverpool's Kostas Tsimikas during a preseason friendly match between FC Red Bull Salzburg and Liverpool FC at the Red Bull Arena. (Pic by Propaganda)

Lewis would not just have offered a pacy alternative and a youngster who can improve, but also an additional member of the homegrown contingent in the squad.

It’s feasible, and reasonable, that this was a factor in Michael Edwards and Co. moving first for him, as the Reds do have to be mindful of the quota ruling—which briefly pointed to Marko Grujic being left out of our squad for the first half of the season, before he secured a loan to Porto.

Moving forward, it’s possible, even likely, that Edwards and Co. will need to scour English clubs for the odd clever signing, possibly as squad players rather than near-guaranteed starters, to keep the squad within the rule’s numbers.

For the full list and rulings behind the homegrown contingent, check out this link, but the essential point is that 17 overseas players are permitted within a 25-man squad, leaving eight homegrowns required.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 20, 2020: Liverpool’s James Milner during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by Propaganda)

Right now, those include: Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Neco Williams, Curtis Jones, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harvey Elliott from Klopp’s squad—though they only have to be listed in the squad once over age 21.

Trent is listed this year, for example, but Elliott won’t need to be for a while.

We also have Harry Wilson, Kamil Grabara, Caoimhin Kelleher and Nat Phillips as homegrown options, but each could be gone on loan by mid-October and Rhian Brewster has already gone permanently.

Factor in that Milner will have to leave eventually, be it in one year or two, and it’s evident that continuity dictates at least one homegrown option will be sought across the next 12 months, and perhaps more if there are unexpected exits.

So who are the reasonable options, outside of signing a £100 million megastar like Jadon Sancho or plundering a top-four team for one of their starters, which rarely seems to happen in the Premier League?


Goalkeepers

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 11, 2018: Southampton's goalkeeper Alex McCarthy during the FA Premier League match between Southampton FC and Liverpool FC at St. Mary's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool are trying to build their own succession plan here, with a number of teenage stoppers joining the ranks over the past 12 months.

By the time they hit 20 and 21 years old, they’ll already count as homegrown for quota purposes, though obviously it depends on their progression as to whether they are first-team capable. Kelleher is closest at present, though very inexperienced, while Marcelo Pitaluga is the newest – so perhaps it’s more worth considering older backups, rather than promising young talents in this position.

Alex McCarthy is a name who has been linked with the Reds for about half a decade, on and off, and right now he’s first choice at Southampton.

But Ralph Hasenhuttl has changed his goalkeepers whenever form or results suggest a change is needed, so the 30-year-old won’t necessarily stay that way and Saints have three senior ‘keepers to choose from. With one year left on his contract come next summer, perhaps the timing might fall right for all parties.

An under-the-radar alternative is Adam Davies, the new No. 1 at Stoke who has edged out Jack Butland. He’s 28, relatively consistent, capable of decent reflex saves and, despite being German-born, a one-cap Wales international. A backup he would be, were one needed.

Realistically? Goalkeeper is an area we’re building for the future, not looking for a stop-gap.


Defenders

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 8, 2020: Wales' Ethan Ampadu during the International Friendly match between England and Wales at Wembley Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK Government’s social distancing laws prohibiting supporters from attending events inside stadiums as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic. England won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There’s more scope for a centre-back to join, perhaps. Right-back is locked with Neco and Trent, while Tsimikas’ arrival blocks in the left side, too.

But no fourth defender arrived to replace Dejan Lovren, with a succession of versatile or young players expected to fill in as needed.

The best young (homegrown) centre-back around right now not already at one of the usual top six is a player the Reds have just faced: Ezri Konsa, of Aston Villa. He took a while to get his chance in the top flight, but since coming into the team their defence has improved immeasurably.

He’s calm on the ball, reads the game well, is aggressive when he needs to be and makes plenty of clearances and headers. He’s also right-sided, if the plan is for an alternative Van Dijk partner.

Brighton’s Ben White has already impressed in the Premier League this season, though would be expensive, but watch out for Ethan Ampadu across the campaign; he has long been seen as a brilliant prospect, but hasn’t had as much senior action as might be expected.

This term he’s at Sheffield United and he could be ready to show he can cope at the top end on a regular basis, be it at the heart of defence or in midfield. He still has two years left on his Chelsea deal, but if he’s not going to be given the chance there, he hasn’t hesitated to say he’ll depart.


Midfielders

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 26, 2019: Leicester City's Harvey Barnes during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It really would have been great had Liverpool been able to follow up their reported interest in Bukayo Saka before he signed a new deal with Arsenal, let’s leave it at that.

Elsewhere, Harvey Barnes is not consistent enough to be a top-level performer…yet. But he is showing more and more signs of being an attacking option who can play multiple roles, affect the game for his team regularly and be a final-third threat game in, game out.

At some point, his end product will click and he will absolutely be a player capable of hitting 12 or 15 goals a season – his movement is good, his close control is impressive and he gets into great areas with his timed runs from deep.

He’s now 22 and has a long-term contract, so won’t be cheap, but don’t be surprised to see him make a big success of a move to a top side in the next year or so.

Two options from the Championship to keep an eye on this season are Andy Rinomhota and Todd Cantwell.

The former is a latecomer to the top two leagues; he’s 23 and only really made his breakthrough with Reading two seasons ago, but he’s a tenacious ball-winner, a great box-to-box option who can also sit and protect.

He’s not elite-level on the ball, to note, but a real ‘puts-the-team-first’ player who has improved an awful lot in the last 12 months and will definitely be a Premier League player sooner or later. As a squad option who might be a stepping stone between the likes of Clarkson and Cain being in the U23s and heading out on loan, he could be an option to bridge that year or two. Of course, if that talented duo continue their progression, we won’t need anybody to back-up Fabinho in the way that Pedro Chirivella didn’t quite manage.

Cantwell we know, but he ended last season poorly with the Canaries and needs to show determination and a good mentality this term to bounce back and show his value as a creator and scorer.


Forwards

Bring back Brewster! It could, of course, happen in the next season or two – but we’ll consider the alternatives.

Another Reading player who looks top-flight capable is Michael Olise, a French youth international but who was with Chelsea and Man City in his youth days, and Reading since 2016, so is very much a homegrown player.

He’s only 18, but his versatility and talent on the ball mark him out as an obvious one to watch from the Championship. Often plays a similar role to Harvey Elliott, but might turn out to be more of a No. 8 in a Klopp team.

There’s not really an obvious, ready-made option to challenge the front three, however, outside of big-six squad players…so perhaps we are back to bidding for Sancho, after all.

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