Sunday 25 August 2019

John Aldridge: 'Liverpool have taken a transfer risk - but three future stars could see that it pays off'

Adam Lewis (left), Rhian Brewster (centre) and Bobby Duncan (right) all featured in Liverpool's first pre-season friendly against Tranmere.
Adam Lewis (left), Rhian Brewster (centre) and Bobby Duncan (right) all featured in Liverpool's first pre-season friendly against Tranmere.

John Aldridge

JURGEN KLOPP appears to be ready to hand Liverpool’s youthful talent a chance to shine in his first team rather than signing big money players this summer and he has earned the right to be backed in this bold decision.

I have watched a lot of Liverpool’s junior teams in action over the last few years and there is a fantastic crop of young talents coming through.

Klopp is clearly keen to explore the prospect of developing them to fit into his team. The Reds played their first game as European champions in a pre-season fixture against my old club Tranmere on Thursday night, as Klopp handed starts to a host of rising stars and then stated that he will not be signing any big-name players this transfer window.

That stance is evidence of the confidence he has in his players, but the big concern would be what happens if one or two of his front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are out for an extended period.

Firmino had a short spell on the sidelines at the back end of last season, but Salah and Mane were fit for most of the campaign – and that was crucial in sustaining the challenge in the domestic title race and in the Champions League. Imagine a scenario that sees Salah and Mane out for three or four months. I’m not sure Liverpool would have the back-up performers to plug that gap, but finding players of that quality to sit on the bench in reserve would be no easy task.

That may be why Klopp has decided he is happy with the players he can call upon outside of his first-choice eleven and his back-up options in the forward line have proved they can deliver the goods when it matters most. Klopp clearly has a lot of faith in Divock Origi and to his credit, he proved a few of his critics wrong last season by coming up with important goals and turning in some great performances in big games.

Origi’s goal in the Champions League final against Tottenham cemented his place in Liverpool folklore. There is no doubt that he earned the new contract he signed a few days ago, with Klopp clearly feeling he is a suitable replacement for the departed Daniel Sturridge. Origi is more of a Klopp player than Sturridge was because he puts in a much bigger shift than Sturridge would. He has never let the club down and the manager is also a big fan of young Rhian Brewster, who has a big future in the game.

Steven Gerrard spoke to me at length about 19-year-old Brewster when he was involved with Liverpool’s academy set-up and he was a big fan of the lad. When someone like Stevie speaks in such glowing terms about a player, you have to listen. I’m sure Klopp shares those views as he has been very public in suggesting the kid has a chance to play a big part this season.

Gerrard’s cousin Bobby Duncan is another attacking player who has also shown real potential in the Liverpool academy and he is one to watch in the future. Klopp may feel he needs to give the youngsters a chance to develop before he blocks their path to the first team with big money signings.

With Xherdan Shaqiri joining Origi and Brewster as the reserves if one of Liverpool’s first-choice front three are ruled out, Klopp appears to have come to the conclusion that he has enough in his squad and I would trust him implicitly in making that judgement. I still believe signing a top quality striker would add a little more potency to an already outstanding Liverpool squad.

But this manager has proved himself to be a master of building harmony on and off the field during his near four-year reign at Anfield.

He certainly has enough strength in depth in midfield with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking sharp in the match at Tranmere. And I would expect Naby Keita to make a positive impact next season after he showed some inconsistencies in his first year at the club. Cover at left back is a concern and even though James Milner has proved he can do a good job there when needed, I would worry about what the impact a long-term injury to Andy Robertson would have on the balance of the team.

Young Adam Lewis could be a contender to step into the team at left back. I would never want to put too much pressure on kids at a formative stage of their career, something would have to go very badly wrong for Lewis not to hit the big-time because he has all the raw materials to become a star. The youngsters at Liverpool should be inspired by the prospect of playing for the newly crowned European champions. Klopp clearly believes he doesn’t want to upset the winning mentality in his dressing room by adding players who may not be starters to his squad.

To win the Premier League next season, Liverpool will need to collect more than 90 points once again as I fully expect Manchester City to break through that points total once again. City have signed Rodri from Atletico Madrid for a club record £62.8m earlier this month and unless UEFA and the Premier League do something to halt their spending, Pep Guardiola’s side will keep spending in their mission to have total dominance of their game. Liverpool were the only side who stood up to City last season and it is hard to imagine that story change when the new season gets underway.

Read John Aldridge every week in The Sunday World.

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