It is the start of another season and more hopefuls from the Liverpool U21s and U18s will be looking to make their mark. Here are 10 academy talents to watch.
The pathway from academy to first team at Liverpool may be a tough one to tread, given the standards set by Jurgen Klopp‘s senior side, but it is arguably smoother than ever.
With the youth setup now based on the same site as the first team, and restrictions eased over the mixing of groups, players can be called up in a matter of minutes to be given a chance to train under Klopp.
On a day-to-day basis, though, it will be about impressing Barry Lewtas and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson – coaches for the under-21s and under-18s respectively – as they look to translate individual progress into results on the pitch.
Already during pre-season a number of youngsters have been involved with the senior side, while new faces have been catching the eye through the age groups.
But who should we be looking out for in 2022/23? Here are 10 Liverpool academy players to watch.
Position: Winger, striker, central midfielder
Among the academy youngsters called up to the first-team squad for pre-season, Clark spent his initial outings during the tour of Asia operating in an unorthodox role up front.
The 17-year-old has played most of his football for the youth ranks on the wing, however, with 13 goals in 23 league starts for the U18s in his first season with Liverpool last time out.
It was more intriguing when the hardworking, skilful teenager was fielded as a No. 8 in the final friendly against Strasbourg at Anfield – and even more so that he was so impressive in that role.
This versatility should only aid a player who is primed to step up to the U21s on a full-time basis this season, and could well be given more first-team exposure as the months go by.
Position: Defensive midfielder, centre-back
Bajcetic adapted excellently in his first full campaign with Liverpool last term, having joined from Celta Vigo in February 2021, shifting seamlessly from centre-back to the No. 6 role.
Tenacious, hungry and, most importantly, calm and composed in possession, it would be no surprise to see the 17-year-old divide duties between playing for the U21s and training with the first team this season.
Position: Right-back, central midfielder
Another to catch the eye during pre-season, Mabaya showed energy and quality at right-back in the absence of the injured Calvin Ramsay, despite an error during the 3-0 loss to Strasbourg.
Though one of the younger players in the U18s squad last season, he is now expected to step up as a key player for the U21s, where he can continue his development both at right-back and in midfield.
His strengths – pace, power and a searing delivery from out wide – are arguably better suited to right-back, but there is boundless potential in the youngster from Preston.
A new signing from Northern Irish side Derry City, Kone-Doherty is set to take up a regular role with the U18s in his first season with Liverpool.
Already handed first-team exposure with his former club, the 16-year-old has shown promise in his performances on both wings, with his blistering pace and crossing ability catching the eye in pre-season.
There is a long road ahead for a player who will need to bulk up in the years to come, but Kone-Doherty should be an exciting feature for the Reds’ academy this season.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Born in St Helens, Pilling has been with Liverpool since he was five and has long been considered one of the most exciting young players in the age groups before the U18s.
Given his first taste of U18s football as a 16-year-old towards the end of 2020/21, he has since established himself as a regular at that level, with his passing range and smart interplay utilised in various roles including deeper and more advanced in midfield.
Turning 18 in September, Pilling signed his first professional contract in the summer and should be a key player for Bridge-Wilkinson’s side this time out.
A revelation as he developed last season, Scanlon cemented himself as first-choice left-back for the U18s and showed qualities that could earmark him as a long-term candidate for the first team.
Signed from Birmingham at the end of 2020 for a fee in the region of £500,000, the 17-year-old can now build on his promising campaign last time around with a full season in the starting spot.
The blueprint has already been laid out for him with the swift progress made by Owen Beck, and there is no reason why Scanlon cannot follow in the Welshman’s footsteps.
At 15, Figueroa is the youngest player on this list, but looks set for a breakthrough campaign as part of a new-look attack for the U18s.
Son of former Wigan defender Maynor Figueroa, he is a prolific striker who, according to his mother, once scored over 90 goals in a campaign split between Liverpool’s under-13s and under-14s.
The early signs are that Figueroa can continue to score regularly as he takes up regular duties as a first-year scholar with the U18s, with big shoes to fill following Oakley Cannonier’s move up to the U21s.
Stepping up in the final weeks of last season, Davidson is a committed right-back who is set to fill a regular role for Bridge-Wilkinson this time around.
The local-born defender does not turn 17 until September, and though he is already a promising option there is still considerable room for development.
His driving runs down the right could become a key outlet for the U18s.
Position: Attacking midfielder
A first-choice starter in a range of midfield roles for the U18s last term, McConnell should now assume more responsibility as an experienced head within a youthful squad.
At his best as an attack-minded No. 8, the former Sunderland youth has shown he is able to lead the press and craft opportunities by linking up with the front three, while proving a considerable threat from range.
McConnell has slotted into the side well following his first full season with the U18s, and should go from strength to strength in his follow-up campaign.
Joining in a £600,000 deal having already gained first-team experience with Celtic – including a cameo in the Old Firm, no less – there is an expectation looming over Doak.
Thankfully, despite arriving with an injury, the direct, pacy winger has taken little time in settling in, making his mark for the U18s during pre-season with a number of goals and assists.
It may be a smart move allowing Doak to find his feet with the U18s at first, though it seems likely that he could be fast-tracked before long.
Who else should we be watching?
This is, of course, far from an exhaustive list, and it is often the case that those who don’t stand out at the start of the campaign go on to make the biggest impression as the months go on.
One big omission is left-back Luke Chambers, who finds himself on the fringes of the first team and should be a key player for the U21s along with the likes of Harvey Davies, Jarell Quansah, James Norris and Layton Stewart.
Cannonier, Melkamu Frauendorf, Mateusz Musialowski and Harvey Blair will be looking to make further progress under Lewtas, while it is a case of making up for lost time for the injury-hit Tom Hill.
In the U18s, Cody Pennington, Lewis Koumas, Ranel Young and Wellity Lucky will be among those who could make a big impact over the course of the season.
And it goes without saying that Kaide Gordon, fitness permitting, could be a marquee name as he splits his time between U21s and first team.