Former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor has name-checked three players from the Reds’ academy ranks as ones to watch in the near future.
In an interview for Goal.com, the 37-year-old was asked about players from Melwood that he could envisage making a first team breakthrough, with Mellor well placed to speak on the subject as a regular viewer of the Reds’ underage teams in his work as a pundit for LFC TV.
He replied: “There’s a lot of talent there. We’ve probably seen more than we would usually see this season due to the Aston Villa and Shrewsbury games. I like a few.
“Obviously, I’m always biased towards attacking players, but I like Layton Stewart. I like that he has that hunger to score goals. I’ve really enjoyed watching Leighton Clarkson, I think him and Jake Cain have done better than most stepping up through the levels.”
Let’s take a closer look at the trio identified by Mellor and assess their first team potential based on what they’ve shown so far:
The 17-year-old was included on the bench for the first team in the Carabao Cup defeat to Aston Villa when numerous academy prospects were given their chance, although he didn’t get a game at Villa Park that night. [via BBC]
He has been very prolific in the underage ranks in recent months, though, scoring 11 goals in 12 games in the Under-18 Premier League, with a hat-trick against Sunderland included in a run of eight goals in four matches over the winter. He was also on target twice in three UEFA Youth League appearances in the group stage of the competition. [via TransferMarkt]
However, with him not turning 18 until September, and with the likes of Paul Glatzel, Liam Millar and Joe Hardy among the under-23s hoping for a senior breakthrough along with on-loan Rhian Brewster, we probably won’t see him near the first team any time soon. Instead, he looks set to continue his development at youth level, where the early signs have been quite promising.
The 18-year-old defensive midfielder came on as a substitute in the Carabao Cup against Aston Villa for his senior debut and was handed his first start in the FA Cup replay win over Shrewsbury, another night when numerous Liverpool youngsters were given their fling.
While he might line up in a withdrawn midfield role, Clarkson is not afraid to get forward to good effect. He recorded two shots in the aforementioned Aston Villa game despite getting just 13 minutes off the bench and he has provided four goals in eight games in the Under-18 Premier League this term. In recent months, he has been elevated into the under-23 age group, featuring in six Premier League 2 games and starting four (as per TransferMarkt).
With Pedro Chirivella turning 23 next month, his time at youth level is reaching an end, so the Blackburn-born teenager could become a mainstay in the under-23 side next season and perhaps get a few more domestic cup appearances for Liverpool’s first team in 2020/21.
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder made his first team bow against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup replay at Anfield in February and has impressed at under-18 level for Liverpool this season, with six goals and seven assists in 10 league games at that grade.
Indeed, Cain has marked himself out as a fantastic creative influence for the under-18 side, with a fine tally of 19 assists in 36 games, along with scoring nine goals. He scored his first goal at under-23 level in the reserves’ 2-1 win over Wolves in Premier League 2 in February and, as per This Is Anfield, he did it in style, netting the winner with a “lovely half-volley” from the edge of the penalty area.
Like Clarkson, he could become a mainstay of the under-23 side over the coming months and may be targeting first team opportunities in domestic cup fixtures next season. With a bit of luck, he may even grow into becoming the creative midfield influence that Jurgen Klopp’s current side has been lacking.
Of the trio that Mellor identified, do you think some (or all) of them could be given first team opportunities over the next few months and eventually make a mark at senior level? Comment below with your views!