Josh Dishman looks at Liverpool’s second half of the season revival, and the impact of a young squad…
“You can’t win anything with kids” goes the much-maligned and oft-repeated Alan Hansen missive that preceded Manchester United’s league and cup double in 1996. And whilst it is common knowledge that Brendan Rodgers has yet to win a trophy as a senior manager, his youth policy at Liverpool is threatening to make a mockery of Hansen’s theory once more.
The recent promotion of 19 year-old winger Jordon Ibe to the starting XI has attracted a blaze of publicity, yet youth courses throughout Rodgers’ side. The average age of the starting XI that defeated top four rivals Southampton last weekend was 23.4 years, and Liverpool’s title chase last season was executed by a team with an average age of just 23.22 years – the youngest side in the Premier League.
And whilst Rodgers and Liverpool could find themselves trophy-less again in May, the future does indeed augur well for the Redmen. Established key players Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge are all 25 or under (as is Mr. Balotelli), and have blossomed under the extra responsibility heaped on them after the departure of a certain Uruguayan star (no, not Sebastian Coates).
Coutinho, in particular, has really upped his game in the last few months, and undoubtedly has the ability to become world-class. Rodgers, to his credit, has transformed the diminutive but mercurial Brazilian into a hard-working central playmaker who regularly lights up matches with moments of individual brilliance. His passing, trickery and assist making has never been in doubt, but his shooting certainly has. Stunning long-range strikes against Bolton and Southampton suggest Coutinho’s extra training has addressed this issue, and if he can continue to add goals to his all-round game, then Liverpool have a bona-fide “marquee player” on their books.
Now we’ll take a look at the new crop of young stars that look set to have a bright future at Anfield:
EMRE CAN (21)
Who else to start with than the man of the moment? Signed for £10 million from Bayer Leverkusen under the noses of previous club Bayern Munich (who had a buy back option), the versatile 21-year-old German of Turkish descent has proven to be a big hit both on and off the pitch. Whilst his seamless reading of the game from the back has been admirable for a natural central midfielder (and Lukaku can attest to his Rolls Royce-like qualities), Can’s future lies in the centre of the park. Hugely powerful, composed passing and possessing a fierce shot, Can leads with the authority and calmness that only a former German youth international captain can bring, and may yet vie with Vice Captain Henderson for the soon-to-be-vacant captain’s armband come the summer.
Despite his obvious on-field abilities, Can’s greatest achievement thus far has been to fill the man-crush role that has been sadly absent since the departure of Daniel Agger back to his beloved Brøndby. Whilst the likes of Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres are big boots to fill, Emre Can’s perfectly sculpted hair and all-round model looks give him every chance of success. Love you Emre.
ALBERTO MORENO (22)
A player that has been somewhat overlooked this season; the 22-year-old Spanish left back has enjoyed an impressive start to his Liverpool career. Whilst his injured compatriot José Enrique gets stranger by the minute on social media, Moreno looks to have solved Liverpool’s left back problem for years to come. His lighting pace and cultured left foot was in early evidence with his solo effort at White Hart Lane, and he seems to have adapted to the pace of the English game after a costly mistake against Manchester City on his debut. He is also the love child of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard, so we know his heart is in the right place.
LAZAR MARKOVIC (20)
Out of Liverpool’s summer dealings, I was most excited about the capture of 20-year-old Serbian winger Markovic (not least because we robbed him from Chelsea). After a shaky start to the season, where he appeared afraid to get stuck in or take on his man, Lazar has shown glimpses of his undoubted talent despite predominately operating in an unfamiliar wing-back role. If his acrobatic volley had gone in against Sunderland then we could have been talking about the goal of the season, but there is still plenty more to come from the tricky attacker.
JORDON IBE (19)
Liverpool’s newest and youngest star has been in such good form that he is now at the centre of a battle between the Nigerian Football Federation and English FA (despite Nigeria never having watched him play). Whilst you wouldn’t want to inflict Hodgson’s tactics on your worst enemy, England would be well served to fast track the exciting winger to the senior side and tie him down for the future.
The national media reaction to Ibe’s rapid rise to prominence would suggest the powerful 19 year old winger was a virtual unknown a few months back, but the opposite is true of course. Coaches at Melwood have long rated Ibe as possessing even greater potential than golden boy Raheem Sterling, and his game intelligence, which was applauded by none other than Thierry Henry last weekend, is certainly more advanced than Sterling’s was at the same age. Successive loan spells at Birmingham (where he helped them beat the drop on the last day) and Derby have done Ibe the world of good and is a perfect example of the loan system used effectively (here’s looking at you Chelsea).
Already “bros” with Sturridge and Sterling in the Liverpool dressing room, Ibe is ready to be the Kop’s newest hero. Just remember its JordON, not JordAN.
SHEYI OJO (17)
Currently earning rave reviews after a handful of matches for Wigan, Ojo is a powerful, skillful midfielder who has a big task on his hands to save the woeful Latics from relegation to League One. Yet to make his first team debut, Ojo has been named on the bench several times by Rodgers and is all set for a breakthrough next season.
DIVOCK ORIGI (19)
Perhaps cheating here, but Brendan Rodgers has huge belief that the young Belgian striker can become “world class” and “light up world football” when he finally makes his long-awaited move to Anfield next season. Despite enduring a testing season for lowly Lille in which he has scored only 4 goals in all competitions, Origi clearly has the physical attributes to make it in the Premier League and will benefit from working with Rodgers, Pascoe and co.
Although every player is young in Rodgers’ eyes – “young Adam” (Lallana, 26) is a classic example – his Liverpool side possesses an exciting mixture of young established players and even younger emerging talents that can only bode well for the future. Provided Ian Ayre and the much-maligned “Transfer Committee” don’t have a major cock-up this summer – and assuming Henderson and Sterling sign on the dotted line – then Reds fans can look forward to exciting and (hopefully) successful years ahead.