Since Jurgen Klopp took charge of Liverpool, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for him – it’s been quite the opposite, in fact.
However, for once, everything went to plan for the German when the Reds met Exeter City in the third round replay of the FA Cup.
Although Klopp did not field a side filled with as much youth as when Liverpool faced the Grecians at St James’ Park earlier this month, it was still a vastly inexperienced team.
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But the Merseyside outfit had no in jitters in dumping Exeter out of the cup this time around and Klopp would have been delighted for his young protagonists.
The ex-Borussia Dortmund manager is strongly against sending out the club’s best talents on loan and instead wants to gradually give them more and more first-team action. In such ties against the likes of Exeter, it’s a chance for the youth to prove their stock and there were three men who made their boss sit up and take note.
During the summer, Brad Smith likely believed that his Anfield career was over when his party and the club could not come to terms on a new deal.
However, that limbo period is well forgotten about and now Smith – who left Australia to join Liverpool at just 14-years-old – is one of the club’s brightest young stars who has a strapping future ahead.
It was his goal in Devon that forced the replay and he continued to menace the Exeter defence in the return tie.
A former sprinter at a high standard in his homeland, Smith displayed all of his pace to assist Joe Allen for the Reds’ opener inside ten minutes.
The 22-year-old was a constant threat on the left-hand side, particularly in the first-half and bombed on forward given any opportunity. Smith’s pace proved too much for the Exeter back-four and he played a smart one-two with Christian Benteke before intelligently getting his head up to assist Allen.
Smith will be hoping for more opportunities in the first-team. He’s now registered two assists this term, one more than regular left-back Alberto Moreno has.
Although Moreno was the subject of a £12 million move from Sevilla in 2014, he’s still yet to fully lock down his place on the left-hand side of defence and Smith will be hoping he can poach the position.
Although he graces from Manchester, Cameron Brannagan has Liverpool running through his veins.
Having been at the club since he was five, he’s likely only lived and breathed the Merseyside outfit since he can remember, and not paid any attention to the teams who his family likely support.
The 19-year-old started in the heart of midfield and looked experienced beyond his age. Composed and efficient on the ball, he always looked confident in whatever he did.
Brannagan also sufficiently broke down Exeter attacks when they looked to move forward on the counter. He patiently waited for the precise moment to get a foot in and went about his business in a mature manner.
It was somewhat of a surprise that Jordon Ibe started over Sheyi Ojo.
Ibe is an established first-teamer under Klopp, who had a very good game on the right-wing and used all of his experience, but it was a shock he was not kept fresh for Saturday’s difficult trip to Norwich City.
Ojo, who was making his second appearance for the first-team, replaced Allen and took his place on the right-wing.
Ojo had a successful stint on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers before being recalled by Klopp, and he’s already displayed his credentials. He made an instant impact, showing all of his attributes from pace to tricky footwork.
Width is what Liverpool have distinctly lacked this campaign, but the Hemel Hempstead-born winger brought exactly that to the table.
His left-foot meant he could cut inside from the right and his curling left-foot strike in the 74th minute left Robert Olejnik stranded and Ojo celebrated his first Liverpool goal. His early shot caught the Exeter shot-stopper off-guard and Ojo showed that he knows how to find the back of the net, another reoccurring problem for Klopp’s men this season.
Given the shortage of wide men Klopp has available, Ojo will be hoping he can continue to flourish when given the opportunity.
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