Football

Liverpool kids have earned their chance

Will Sterling get another chance to shine? (©GettyImages)
Will Sterling get another chance to shine? (©GettyImages).

The future at Liverpool is looking bright.

When you consider that the Reds went down to a 2-1 defeat against Wigan Athletic at the weekend, and have lost five of their last six games in the Premier League, it seems like an odd statement.

But, looking past the first team’s recent struggles in the English top flight, a core of young players are slowly emerging from the club’s famed academy.

After producing the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, it’s been a relatively baron spell in relation to players graduating from Melwood to Anfield.

A third-place finish in the inaugural NextGen Series, an Under 19 tournament aimed at reflecting the Champions League, suggests that times could be changing though, with a couple of players who’ve represented the young Reds already getting a recent senior chance.

Raheem Sterling made his first team debut in Saturday’s defeat to the Latics, introduced as a second-half substitute and impressing despite the reverse, whilst Jon Flanagan, who featured last season under Dalglish, was also in senior action for the first time this term over the weekend.

And, whilst the result was a negative over the weekend, neither player was out of depth at the older level. For that, credit must go to Rodolfo Borrell, who is constantly working to get the club’s young players up to scratch.

"The NextGen Series has been a great experience for the lads. We have a young squad and we have played against strong and experienced teams. They have a learned a lot for the future," he told the official Liverpool website.

It hasn’t been all success in the competition for the young Reds, who progressed to the semi-finals on a technicality after a defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. They then lost the semi-final 6-0 against a resurgent Ajax.

However, a string of players have shown that they can’t be far from breaking into the side, and it would seem like now is the perfect time.

Liverpool have already booked their place in the Europa League with victory in the League Cup, and will be hoping to make it a domestic double in the FA Cup with a potential all-Merseyside semi-final to look forward too at Wembley.

But, in the Premier League, the Reds literally have nothing to play for. The obvious response is that the players’ pride is on the line, and finishing above Newcastle in sixth would be a positive in terms of morale. It also has a small financial benefit, as each higher place in the table adds a few hundred thousand pounds.

That’s relative chump change in today’s modern football climate, and for a club the size of Liverpool, there are much more important things to worry about now a top four finish is realistically out of their reach.

Developing young talent should be one of those priorities, but it seems to be something ‘King Kenny’ is not so keen to try and do this season.

"You just need to draw your horses back a bit. He (Sterling) wouldn't have been there if we weren't in the position we were in. It is nice to see the kids get a game but it is also better for us to look after them and manage them,” said the Scot post-match on Saturday.

"We are not going to throw kids in and destroy them, but it is nice to see them on the pitch."

From the outside looking in, it seems like a disappointing assessment of the junior players trying to make their way to the very top on Merseyside. The likes of Connor Coady, Adam Morgan, Jack Robinson, Flanagan and Sterling have been talked about for over a year now, but are clearly not judged to be ready for the big-time.

That is where complete trust must fall to the manager – supporters are desperate to see more of Sterling in particular, whose attacking style quickly captured the imagination during 16 great minutes against Roberto Martinez’s side.

More frustratingly, the senior players at the club aren’t playing well. The simple fact is that Liverpool are currently under-performing, and whilst Dalglish won’t criticise any individuals at the club, he will privately be disappointed with a number of his players.

But he is happy to stick with them for now, and fans have to trust his judgement. In fairness to Dalglish, he's built up that trust through years of unprecedented success as a player in the 80s and then as a manager.

Football fans will always think short-term though, and if defeats continue to rear their ugly head at Anfield, people will want change.

That change could come in the form of young players, but Dalglish will need to have his mind-set changed drastically to go in such a different direction to his current philosophy.

Topics:
Football
Premier League
Liverpool

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