Sunday 20 October 2019

John Aldridge: 'Big night for Kelleher - but there are three other young Liverpool stars I really hope to see'

Liverpool's Irish goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher
Liverpool's Irish goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher

John Aldridge

CAOIMHÍN Kelleher is set to make his Liverpool debut in tonight’s League Cup game against MK Dons and I believe the young Irishman is ready for this big moment in his career.

When I first watched Caoimhín shortly after he arrived at Liverpool, the first thing that struck me was that he was a fantastic shot-stopper and yet he looked very slight in his build.

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He is only a kid so there is plenty of time for him to build his physique and I know the club put him on a programme to bulk up a little and get him in the gym to ensure he was physically ready for first-team football.

Making the transition from youth team football to the senior game is a big step and as Caoimhín’s experience in underage sports was playing Gaelic football and not top-level soccer, his transition may have been even steeper.

Yet I look at young Kelleher now and at the age of 20, he has matured into a fine young man who has moved his game up a good few levels since he arrived at Liverpool.

I am good friends with Liverpool goalkeeping coach John Achterberg and I know he rates Caoimhín highly, with one of his best assets enhanced by his experience playing GAA back home.

All modern goalkeepers need to be good with their feet and Kelleher ticks that box, with his distribution and ability to pick out passes and get moves underway a big asset that has allowed him to emerge from a pack of talented teenage keepers at Liverpool as the best of the batch.

Manager Jurgen Klopp has spoken highly of the kid who joined a select band of Irishmen who have won a Champions League medal last June and tonight could be a key moment in his development as he takes centre stage in a first-team game at last.

Adrian has done a magnificent job for Liverpool in the absence of Alisson Becker over the last few weeks, but I would expect Klopp to completely change his team this evening and give some of his squad players a game and that should work in Kelleher’s favour.

I would have been against the plan of naming a second-string team for the League Cup a couple of years back, as this is a competition you want to take seriously and there is no doubt that it is well worth winning.

Yet my view has shifted on this issue as Liverpool are clearly strong contenders for the Premier League title and will also be expecting to go a long way in the Champions League once again this season, so Klopp has to give his fringe players some game time.

Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Adam Lallana, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri should all play in what will still be a strong Liverpool side and yet these nights are always laced with danger.

Manchester United got hammered at this same stage of the League Cup a few years back and on a night that will be a cup final for the home team in front of a sell-out crowd, a Liverpool team that has never played together in a competitive game before will have to find a way to win.

It’s never an easy task as you can only build up an understanding of players in match conditions, as training ground matches and sessions are not the ideal way to find out what combinations will work together.

Yet all Liverpool fans will back Klopp in whatever team he picks tonight because the Sheffield United away game in the Premier League on Saturday is crucial and we would not want to see Virgil van Dijk or Mohamed Salah injured in a League Cup match at this point in the season.

Also, Liverpool fans will enjoy the prospect of seeing kids like Kelleher getting his chance and I am also hoping we get a glimpse of Dutch defender Ki-Jana Hoever, midfielder Curtis Jones and striker Rhian Brewster.

All three have huge potential, with 17-year-old Hoever rated as one of the best young defenders at the club and 18-year-old Englishman Jones boasting the potential to do whatever he wants in the game.

Brewster is a little further advanced in his development and has already played for the first team, with his goal-poaching ability meaning he is a little different when compared to the other strikers Klopp has to work with.

This lad is a penalty box poacher, like I was back in the day, and while Klopp likes his players to offer a little more outside of the penalty area, the club is excited by what Brewster could become.

This is a night for the kids to show what they can do and plenty of Irish eyes will be wishing Kelleher all the best if he gets his chance to become a Liverpool first-team star.

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