It has been a strong first half of the season for the Liverpool academy, but who have been the standout performers across the Reds’ under-23s and under-18s sides so far?
Buoyed by the arrival of the first team at their Kirkby training ground, the young Reds have continued to catch the eye in 2020/21, particularly at U18 level.
The U23s currently sit sixth in Premier League 2, but can count their successes by the number of players who have been given senior exposure in a strange campaign, including debuts for Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio.
Meanwhile, the U18s are in the midst of a title fight in their domestic league, perhaps aided by a decrease in intensity in the schedule without the UEFA Youth League.
At all levels there have been talents to catch the eye, but who have been the 10 best?
Honorary mentions go to Jack Bearne, Luis Longstaff and Owen Beck from the U23s, along with Jakub Ojrzynski, Sean Wilson, Mateusz Musialowski and Max Woltman from the U18s, who have all impressed but not quite made the cut in our list – here’s the 10 who have.
10. Tom Clayton – Centre-back / Midfielder
Starts (Sub): 13 (0)
That Clayton is among the young Reds’ top performers despite not playing regularly in his natural role at centre-back is a testament to the 20-year-old’s commitment and team-first attitude.
With Leighton Clarkson earning a three-match suspension in the U23s’ 5-3 win at Man United in September, and then moved up to the first team on a full-time basis, Clayton stepped into the void as Barry Lewtas‘ new deep-lying midfielder.
He certainly has a different profile to Clarkson, but the Scotland youth international has given the U23s a strong backbone and a composed outlet in possession, while also stepping up with goals against Arsenal, West Ham and Man City.
One of just three ever-presents for Lewtas’ U23s so far this season.
9. Conor Bradley – Right-back
Starts (Sub): 11 (1)
Bradley’s appearances were limited in his first season with the Reds, but the 2019 signing from Dungannon United clearly made an impression as, having only turned 17 in July, he was cemented as a regular starter for the U23s this season.
And rightly so, the Northern Irishman has been one of Liverpool’s standout young talents throughout the campaign so far, with his strength in defence and persistence in attack making him a key presence at right-back.
Perhaps most impressive was the impact Bradley made over a start and a 12-minute cameo in the EFL Trophy against senior opposition, notching an assist in each outing including an Andy Robertson-like steamroll into the box to tee up Liam Millar against Port Vale.
8. Jarell Quansah – Centre-back
Starts (Sub): 10 (0)
With Tom Hill sidelined with a long-term injury and Fidel O’Rourke ‘promoted’ to the role of most-used sub with the U23s, 17-year-old defender Quansah has been stationed as U18s captain.
From Koumetio to Lee Jonas to Terence Miles, the Warrington-born youngster has started alongside a host of different centre-back partners so far, and has maintained a strong level of consistency as Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s mainstay.
There are shades of Rhys Williams to his game, particularly with the strong tackles, heroic blocks and calm approach in possession that have helped him propel the U18s in their title race.
A brilliant goalline clearance in October’s 4-1 win over Newcastle highlighted his desire and anticipation.
7. Tyler Morton – Midfielder
Starts (Sub): 9 (0)
A beneficiary of the promotion of Clarkson and Jake Cain through the ranks, Morton has made continual steps up in responsibility over the past year, and has taken it in his stride.
The 18-year-old was tasked with filling the creative void left by the midfield duo when they left the U18s for the U23s midway through last season, while at the start of this campaign he was stationed as one of Bridge-Wilkinson’s key men.
Now making inroads at U23 level, the silky, intelligent midfielder has continued to impress, making an impact with both goals scored and assists tallied.
6. James Balagizi – Midfielder
Starts (Sub): 10 (1)
Balagizi’s 2019/20 campaign ended prematurely with an ankle injury, but the time off allowed the 17-year-old to work on the core and upper-body strength that saw him return for the new season with a renewed vigour.
It has shown, too, with his role as a staple of Bridge-Wilkinson’s side allowing him to dance through midfields with impressive skill, crafting openings with a creative flourish and keep possession with a panache reminsicent of Gini Wijnaldum.
Having already made his debut for the under-21s in the EFL Trophy, there is a clear belief that Balagizi could be one for the first team in the future – and more goals and assists in 2021 could help him catch the eye even more.
5. Melkamu Frauendorf – Midfielder
Starts (Sub): 9 (1)
A summer signing from Hoffenheim, Frauendorf was one of the last through the door at Kirkby before the new post-Brexit ruling against signing overseas players under the age of 18, and he has already shown it was a worthwhile venture.
Arriving with a burgeoning reputation as captain of Germany’s under-16s side, the 16-year-old slotted in immediately and proved his worth – particularly in his versatility, playing in a variety of positions in midfield, attack and even full-back.
His clever movement and interplay in the final third make him a key asset for the U18s, and Bridge-Wilkinson will hope for more to come next year.
4. Dominic Corness – Midfielder
Starts (Sub): 9 (0)
Nicknamed ‘The Wand’ for his magic left foot, Corness has emerged as a key player for the U18s this season, having seen injury and competition for places limit his chances last term.
The deep-lying midfielder has effectively taken up the mantle of Clarkson, and has lived up to his nickname so far with eight assists in just nine appearances.
His standout moment came with two goals directly from corners in September’s 5-0 win over Stoke, but similarly impressive was his inch-perfect, first-time through ball, with his weaker right foot, for Oakley Cannonier’s goal in December’s 4-1 thrashing of Burnley.
3. Liam Millar – Winger
Starts (Sub): 14 (0)
It must have been a frustrating year for Millar, recalled from a season-long loan at Kilmarnock in January to start in the 1-0 FA Cup win over Shrewsbury the following month, only to then return to the U23s on a full-time basis.
But the Canada international has applied himself admirably, and more often than not this season he has worn the captain’s armband for the U23s, standing in for the injured Paul Glatzel.
He is the only player to start all 14 games in Premier League 2 and the EFL Trophy, and is beginning to come into his own as a devastating outlet on the left, thriving in one-on-ones and providing five goals and three assists.
The hope will be that a loan move follows in January, but Lewtas may be eager to keep his captain around.
2. Layton Stewart – Striker
Starts (Sub): 11 (1)
There is a lot of buzz around Stewart within the Liverpool academy, and rightly so.
Like Glatzel and Bobby Duncan two years ago, the Scouser has hit a stunning vein of goalscoring form, netting 13 times in just nine appearances for the U18s, before moving up an age group upon Glatzel’s latest injury.
His array of finishes is hugely impressive, but so too is his willingness to fight for the team, and while it has not come off for the U23s yet, it seems only a matter of time for Stewart.
At 18, Stewart has time on his side, and with great belief in his ability from the coaches at Kirkby, it could be that he is given a chance to train with the first team in 2021.
1. Jake Cain – Midfielder
Starts (Sub): 11 (0)
Cain has been a bit of a ‘tweener in the first half of the season, having played regularly for the U23s but also trained full-time with the first team and been on the bench for all six games in the Champions League and one in the Premier League.
It has been down to the versatile midfielder to keep up the consistency in the academy, and Cain should be commended for his performance levels throughout the campaign so far.
Despite being only 19, he has become one of the leaders in Lewtas’ side, and has led by example on a number of occasions, while making his presence felt with both goals and assists.
His free-kick at Tranmere in the EFL Trophy in September was perhaps the pick of the bunch – a stunning effort against senior opposition.