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Leighton Clarkson taking European night as his “proper debut” for Liverpool

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Leighton Clarkson made his third appearance for Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday – but this is the first one which counts for the young midfielder.

Many young hopefuls have progressed through the Academy sides, played a single game or perhaps a couple for the ‘seniors’ in the domestic cup surrounded by other youngsters, then ultimately fail to make the grade at Anfield.

It could yet be the case for a few who featured last year in the League Cup under Jurgen Klopp – but Clarkson is hoping that’s not the case for him.

The 19-year-old got his first taste of European action this week and, more than that, he feels that being surrounded by the likes of Mohamed Salah, Fabinho and second-half sub Jordan Henderson means that this outing was worth far more.

Put simply, he has been training all season with the senior side and this time he got to play with several of them, too.

Speaking after the match, Clarkson said he was therefore taking the Midtjylland draw as his “proper debut” and says Jurgen Klopp just wanted him to show on the pitch what he has done in training this year.

HERNING, DENMARK - Wednesday, December 9, 2020: Liverpool's Leighton Clarkson during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between FC Midtjylland and Liverpool FC at the Herning Arena. (Pic by Lars Møller/Propaganda)

“He just said: ‘Play your normal game.’ I’ve been training with them for quite a bit now but that was like my proper debut. They were just saying, ‘Feel free, be yourself’,” he told the club website.

“For me to be up there training with them I’ve got to have shown him something so I’m happy I’ve done that and I’m obviously delighted [the manager] gave me this opportunity and I feel like I’ve taken it.”

Clarkson also pointed out that he has been alongside the likes of Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio for some time now, so it was particularly special to feature in a game of this magnitude alongside them.

Many players never get to experience playing at the very most elite stage of European football, and he has now done so as a teenager – the culmination of an ambition, but definitely not the end destination of what he wants to achieve at the club.

The youngster is realistic enough to know what he did well with, and where improvements can come.

HERNING, DENMARK - Wednesday, December 9, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (C) celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between FC Midtjylland and Liverpool FC at the Herning Arena. (Pic by Lars Møller/Propaganda)

“It’s stuff you dream of as a child obviously, making your Champions League debut, and to do it here and now it’s a special moment for me and my family and it’s one I won’t forget.

“I thought I did alright. First half, I thought I was better because we were playing more football and I thought I was getting into the game a lot more and making a few decent passes.

“Then in the second half we weren’t really at it and we were dropping deeper and weren’t really playing possession football, and that’s something to work towards with the games coming up.”

Having been on the bench several times recently, Clarkson might again have to make do with U23 outings and working hard in training over the coming weeks, with Naby Keita back from injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting closer and James Milner not too far away.

But he has made the case that he can cope with the technical and tactical demands of the team, and has no doubt long-since earned the trust of Jurgen Klopp – which is precisely why he was handed his “proper debut” in the first place.

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