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Liverpool unearth another homegrown gem – now Conor Bradley’s ready for next step

It can be easy to forget that Conor Bradley missed the first 19 games of the season such was his incredible breakthrough into the side, and now he is firmly nestled into the first-team squad.

After playing a full season in League One the year prior, Bradley was poised to take his opportunity to impress, but he had to wait patiently due to injury.

A stress fracture in his back forced him to the sidelines for four months, but following his return in November, he went from strength to strength.

“A real prospect for us. We really count on him,” Jurgen Klopp declared shortly after the youngster’s return – it was only a sign of things to come.

Conor Bradley, 2023/24

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher celebrates with Conor Bradley after the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0 after extra-time. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 17 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 6
Unused sub: 9
Goals: 1
Assists: 6
Overall Season Rating: 8.07

 

Frustration to not looking back

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 31, 2024: Liverpool's Conor Bradley celebrates after scoring the second goal, his first for the club, during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After showing promise in Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s inverted role during the European stage of pre-season, Bradley’s hopes of a strong start were dashed by a stress fracture in his back.

He missed the trip to Singapore and the subsequent first 19 games of the campaign – a time which also saw the vice-captain miss four games due to injury.

That frustration, though, slowly morphed into opportunity for Bradley, who started two games in a run of 11 on his return to the first team.

A rough night against Union SG led Klopp to say “he has to learn,” and that he did.

When Alexander-Arnold spent the first of his two spells on the sidelines with a knee injury, Bradley came into his own, so much so that there were debates if the No.66 ought to be kept out of the XI.

Imagine saying that last summer!

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Conor Bradley after the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Wednesday January 31, 2024.

In a five-game run that started against Fulham in the League Cup semi-final first leg, Bradley was unstoppable – showing grit defensively and offering a potent threat in the final third.

Klopp lauded his youngster at the time, saying: “Fantastic character, a real talent, top potential – and he’s in the right team, because everybody loves him, everybody respects him, everybody wants him to succeed.”

This run in the XI returned one goal and five assists, though half of those contributions came during his electric performance against Chelsea at Anfield.

It was individual brilliance at its best, and what made it all the more staggering was Bradley had only made his Premier League debut just 10 days prior.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 31, 2024: Liverpool's Conor Bradley celebrates after assisting the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

An outing that made everyone sit up and notice, and it is no wonder ‘There’s only one Conor Bradley‘ reverberated around Anfield.

“My pinch-myself moment was probably against Chelsea when I scored and got two assists. The fans chanting my name was pretty special,” he would later reflect.

“I don’t think I will have a better night than that to be honest.”

 

Taking his chance

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 2, 2024: Liverpool's Conor Bradley during the FA Premier League match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Just days after living a boyhood dream of scoring at Anfield, Bradley returned to Northern Ireland following the tragic passing of his father.

He was given all the time and support he needed, a nod to the club and Klopp’s insistence that the person comes before the player.

The 20-year-old was in control of his own return, and with Alexander-Arnold set for his longest stint in the treatment room, Bradley went on to start 11 of the next 13 games after heading back to Merseyside.

In that time, he started the League Cup final, faced Man City at Anfield and notched another assist – another timely nod to his meteoric rise.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher (L) and Conor Bradley celebrate after the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Photo by Peter Powell/Propaganda)

From a loan in League One with Bolton to lifting a trophy for your boyhood club, does it get much better?

This period was his most consistent run in the starting lineup, and if it had not been for an injury against Crystal Palace, we may have seen more debates over himself and Alexander-Arnold.

He came of age under Klopp’s management and is now a genuine senior right-back option for the foreseeable future.

 

Slot can be good for Bradley

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 31, 2024: Liverpool's Conor Bradley sprints through to score the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There will always be uncertainty when a new manager arrives, but in Arne Slot Liverpool have another boss who will give chances to the club’s youngsters.

Bradley typically found himself sticking to the wing at right-back, but he did, at times, take on the role of Alexander-Arnold further in-field.

He has the capabilities to do so, and having cemented himself as a long-term fixture in the first team, it will be intriguing to see how the 20-year-old develops under Slot’s guidance.

The Dutchman utilises his full-back heavily and they do tend to invert during the team’s build-up phase, putting more emphasis on Bradley’s ability on the ball.

He is young and adaptable and has shown characteristics of both Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold in his game, not a bad set of skills to have!

Bradley’s next challenge will be consistency and further physical growth to sustain a full season at the highest level.


Best moment: A Man of the Match performance vs. Chelsea – one goal and two assists.

Worst moment: Own goals against Sparta Prague and Sheffield United.

Role next season: A fixture in the first team.