Sepp van den Berg has quietly improved his form with the Liverpool under-23s this season, and showed himself “full of confidence” in the Merseyside derby on Monday.
As one of the only arrivals in a quiet summer of 2019, expectations for Van den Berg were perhaps unfairly high following his £1.3 million switch from PEC Zwolle.
The teenager struggled in his four first-team appearances last season, and despite training with the senior squad at times this term, he has largely spent 2020/21 so far with the U23s.
Under Barry Lewtas, however, Van den Berg has got his head down and worked to improve himself, as a young centre-back still growing into his lofty frame and still getting to grips with the physicality of English football.
Monday’s 1-1 draw with Everton saw the Dutchman make a big step, excelling against a diverse attacking threat and deserving the Man of the Match award for his strong, composed display.
“Sepp was fantastic, he really was,” the U23s coach said.
“He was brilliant in terms of his defending and the way we built from the back and played. We went through Sepp a lot.
“In fairness to him he has been a real consistent performer for us so we are really pleased with where he is at the moment.
“He is full of confidence and playing at a really consistent level.
“I think Sepp’s calmness and maybe where he is at the moment, with his consistency, certainly helped Billy settle into the game.”
The next move for Van den Berg is expected to be a half-season loan this month, with clubs in England, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland all interested as Liverpool weigh up the right destination.
Earlier in the campaign, the youngster’s form suggested he would flounder if given a regular role in the Championship, but now looking stronger and more attuned to the demands of the game it could be perfect for him.
With Liverpool so short of centre-back options this season it is telling that Klopp has overlooked Van den Berg, with Koumetio preferred along with Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, but he clearly remains in the manager’s thinking.
Proving himself with a solid five months on loan in the English second tier could steel Van den Berg to return and push for a long-term role at first-team level.
It is a scenario almost unthinkable just half a season ago, but now Liverpool’s No. 72 looks to be finally settling and showing his worth.