KIRKBY, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 1, 2023: Liverpool's James Balagizi (L) and Isaac Mabaya train before the Under-18 Premier League match between Liverpool FC Under-18's and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC Under-18's at the Liverpool Academy. (Pic by Jessica Hornby/Propaganda)

Right-back in Jurgen Klopp’s plans finally back after 10-month injury

A year on from his dream involvement with the first team for pre-season, Liverpool right-back Isaac Mabaya made his return from a 10-month injury.

Mabaya, a long-time academy talent, became a favourite among avid watchers last summer with a series of brave displays for the senior side.

But the 18-year-old was unable to build on this as hoped, as he picked up a persistent ankle injury in October.

Spending the remainder of the campaign on the sidelines, Mabaya was joined in his rehabilitation by team-mate James Balagizi.

The pair stepped up their recovery over the summer and, while Balagizi spent pre-season with loan club Wigan, Mabaya has now made his comeback with Liverpool under-21s.

Friday brought a 25-minute cameo as the U21s beat Hull 5-0 in a friendly at the AXA Training Centre.

Mabaya replaced Terence Miles with 65 minutes on the clock for his first appearance in 10 months.

Another player on the comeback trail, striker Oakley Cannonier, netted a hat-trick while Tommy Pilling and Billy Koumetio were also on the scoresheet.

KIDDERMINSTER, ENGLAND - Friday, January 27, 2023: Liverpool's Oakley Cannonier celebrates scoring the only goal during the Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC Under-21's and Liverpool FC Under-21's at Aggborough Stadium. (Pic by Jessica Hornby/Propaganda)

Cannonier’s third was laid on by Mabaya, while 17-year-old Trent Kone-Doherty caught the eye with his wide play.

And cut from the first-team squad for the tour of Singapore, goalkeepers Vitezslav Jaros and Marcelo Pitaluga both played 45 minutes ahead of expected loan moves.

It was another productive afternoon for the U21s, who have also seen off Kidderminster Harriers, Blackpool and Stalybridge Celtic this summer along with a draw with Peterborough.

The overriding positive, along with Cannonier’s treble, was the long-awaited return of Mabaya.

Such was his impact on Jurgen Klopp and his staff last summer that assistant Vitor Matos praised him alongside future first-teamer Stefan Bajcetic.

“Isaac, his physical attributes are really, really good and he’s someone that can really give life to the right side of a team,” Matos said.

NAPLES, ITALY - Wednesday, September 7, 2022: Liverpool's Isaac Mabaya celebrates after the UEFA Youth League Group A Matchday 1 game between SSC Napoli Under-19's and Liverpool FC Under-19's at Giuseppe Piccolo. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool handed the teenager a new long-term contract in May, and the hope will be that he can now rebuild his momentum with the U21s.

The young Reds kick off their campaign proper with a Merseyside derby at home to Everton on August 14, as part of a new-look U21 league.

It remains to be seen how Barry Lewtas‘ squad will shape up, with the side that took on Hull including a host of under-18s and players who are likely to depart.

Among those are Mateusz Musialowski, James Norris and both goalkeepers, while the inclusion of Jay Spearing from the bench suggests a shortage in midfield.

Liverpool U21s vs. Hull: Jaros (Pitaluga 45′); Miles (Mabaya 65′), Pinnington (Spearing 65′), Koumetio, Gyimah (Osborne 78′); Stephenson, Pilling, Norris; Kone-Doherty, Musialowski, Cannonier