Loan spells are often invaluable to young players dreaming of forcing their way into one of the Premier League’s top clubs.
Countless promising youngsters down the years have learned their trade at teams lower down English football’s league pyramid, before returning to their parent clubs more mature and ready to compete for a first-team place.
Jurgen Klopp hoped this would be the case regarding one of Liverpool’s most talented youngsters, Ben Woodburn.
The 19-year-old, who has already made nine appearances for the Wales national team, joined Championship outfit Sheffield United on a season-long loan deal in the summer.
The acquisition of Woodburn felt like a real coup for the Blades; however, their manager Chris Wilder has barely used the Liverpool starlet this season.
Since being substituted at half-time during the win over Norwich City on August 18, Woodburn has played just 28 minutes of first-team football for his loan club.
“Ben’s not a special case at all,” Wilder recently told reporters. “We’ve got seven or eight players in the same boat, who can’t get in the team, and he’s no different because he’s come from Liverpool.
"He’s a talent, we understand he’s a good player, and he's not done anything wrong. Just as the boys who have been playing haven’t done anything wrong, either."
Understandably concerned by his lack of minutes, Liverpool recently invited Woodburn to play for their Under-23 side against Derby County in the Premier League 2.
And he made another appearance for the Reds’ youth side against Everton on Sunday.
But how did he perform? Has he been affected by his nightmare spell at Sheffield United - or does he still look a class act?
Well, the Liverpool Echo’s James Pearce ran the rule over the Welshman during Sunday’s mini Merseyside derby at Goodison Park - and his analysis is interesting.
“What's certain is that there will be shortage of takers if Liverpool do decide to send Woodburn elsewhere for the second half of the season,” Pearce believes.
“There were plenty of scouts in attendance at Goodison and the teenager showed his class against the Blues as he led the line brilliantly.
“Dropping off into space, he linked play intelligently. He has bulked up and has the ability to occupy defenders.
“One delightful flick into the path of Isaac Christie-Davies helped set up the only goal of the game as Adam Lewis' piledriver deflected in off Rafa Camacho.”
So, there you have it: Woodburn still looks the business despite his troubles at Bramall Lane.
That he’s bulked up will make him even more appealing to other Championship clubs hoping to offer the talented youngster more game time during the second half of the season.
“It was important for Ben to get 90 minutes,” Liverpool Under-23s boss Neil Critchley told the ECHO. “I thought he was involved in a lot of our good play. It's always nice to see Ben when he comes back.
“He's just a good kid and helps the players on the pitch, he talks and gives them good information.
“He needs to play games. Hopefully that 90 minutes will benefit him going forwards.
“I don't know what will happen in January - that's for the two clubs to decide. We're always delighted to have good players around and Ben is certainly a good player.”News Now - Sport News