Sell, keep or loan again? Liverpool loan players’ Anfield futures assessed

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Liverpool currently have nine players out on loan from a club, with a 10th (Loris Karius) recently returning to Anfield. Although the future of the Premier League season, along with many other leagues across Europe, remains to be determined, many loan deals are set to finish at the end of June, which will present the question as to what lies next for the players concerned.

Some might come back to Anfield reinvigorated by ample game-time during their respective loan spells, some could still face an uncertain future at their parent club and others seem to have little hope of ever making the grade with the Reds’ first team.

We assess each loan player’s spell away from the club and give our verdict on whether they will be at Liverpool or elsewhere for 2020/21.

Loris Karius

Liverpool career so far: The German goalkeeper has made 49 senior appearances for the Reds between 2016 and 2018 but his prolonged spell in the first team in his second season at Anfield ended in ignominy. Two shocking errors gifted goals to Real Madrid in their 3-1 Champions League final victory over Liverpool in Kiev and a succession of gaffes in pre-season a few weeks later effectively sealed his fate.

How he’s fared on loan: Karius is actually back at Anfield now, having recently terminated his two-year loan spell at Besiktas over issues of unpaid wages. If he hoped that a move to Turkey would provide a pick-me-up following his Kiev disaster, it hasn’t quite worked out like that for him. A comic error against Slovan Bratislava in a Europa League tie in September put him in the spotlight for the wrong reasons again and he even put some of his mistakes down to the positioning of Turkish floodlights affecting his concentration.

Verdict for 2020/21: Even with Jurgen Klopp stating that Karius could be offered a shot at retribution on Merseyside, and with current second choice Adrian culpable of glaring errors of his own, it’s difficult to see a way back for the German ‘keeper at Anfield. The anguish of Kiev 2018 still feels raw and his spell at Besiktas seems to have done little to right those wrongs. I reckon he’ll be out the door if Hertha Berlin’s reported interest is concrete.

Kamil Grabara

Liverpool career so far: The Pole has featured abundantly at underage level for the Reds but never made a competitive senior appearance at Anfield. The closest he has come to the first team is a bout of pre-season fare in 2018 and making the bench for a Carabao Cup defeat to Chelsea last term.

How he’s fared on loan: After a spell with AGF Aarhus in Denmark last year, he has been on loan at Huddersfield for the 2019/20 season, conceding 45 goals in 28 appearances and managing just five clean sheets. He had been the Terriers’ first choice from the outset of the campaign up until a head injury sidelined him from February onward (TransferMarkt). As per Yorkshire Live, Huddersfield’s head of goalkeeping Paul Clements said that the 21-year-old has done “unbelievably well” for the Championship outfit.

Verdict for 2020/21: Grabara should be buoyed by obtaining regular game-time in the English second tier, while Adrian’s horror show against Atletico Madrid has put some unwanted scrutiny on the Spaniard. Much could depend on what Klopp does with him and Caoimhin Kelleher, who has played a handful of domestic cup games this season. If they both remain at Anfield, Grabara may well be loaned out again. If either or both leave (on loan or otherwise), the Pole may be kept at Liverpool as backup.

Nathaniel Phillips

Nathaniel Phillips Liverpool

Liverpool career so far: The centre-back has made just one senior appearance for the Reds, featuring in the FA Cup win over Everton in January in a youthful Liverpool line-up. A strong performance that evening won him plenty of praise from Kopites.

How he’s fared on loan: He has been on loan at Stuttgart either side of a brief recall at the turn of the year with that FA Cup derby in mind. He has made 19 appearances in total for the German outfit, featuring regularly in their 2. Bundesliga campaign, in which they are currently on track for promotion to the top flight. Over the course of the season, has the highest WhoScored average match rating among Pellegrino Matarazzo’s squad.

Verdict for 2020/21: That impressive showing against Everton and his consistency for Stuttgart should put Phillips in good stead to at least have a chance of making Liverpool’s squad next season. However, much could depend on whether Dejan Lovren leaves and is replaced by reported transfer targets such as Kalidou Koulibaly, Ben White or Diego Carlos. If that proves to be the case, the 23-year-old might have another season out on loan – Stuttgart reportedly want him again for 2020/21 (Bild via HITC).

Ovie Ejaria

Liverpool career so far: The midfielder has featured eight times for the Reds’ first team but each of those appearances came in 2016/17 and only two were in the Premier League. Even those two league games saw him play a grand total of six minutes off the bench towards the end of comprehensive wins over Watford and Middlesbrough. [via TransferMarkt]

How he’s fared on loan: Ejaria’s current loan at Reading is his third since 2017, having also had spells at Sunderland and Rangers. The 21-year-old has started 32 league games for the Royals this season, with three goals and four assists to his name, and has the squad’s second highest WhoScored performance rating for the season.

Verdict for 2020/21: Despite playing regularly and seemingly performing well at the Madejski Stadium, the strong level of competition in Liverpool’s midfield makes it hard to see where Ejaria could fit in, while three loan spells since 2017 suggests that Klopp considers him dispensable. The Liverpool Echo claimed that the 21-year-old will join Reading permanently in the summer and it’s a move which seems to make sense for all parties.

Marko Grujic

Liverpool career so far: Klopp’s first signing as Liverpool manager in 2016, Grujic has found game-time very hard to come by at Anfield, making only 14 senior appearances for the Reds. He has never started a Premier League or Champions League game, with the highlight of his Liverpool career coming in a pre-season friendly against Barcelona four years ago when he scored a delightful looping header at Wembley.

How he’s fared on loan: The Serbian midfielder has been on loan at Hertha Berlin for the past two seasons, racking up 45 appearances for the Bundesliga outfit and scoring eight goals. He has been a regular starter for Bruno Labbadia’s side, primarily in a central midfield role but occasionally shifting to a more withdrawn or advanced position (as per TransferMarkt).

Verdict for 2020/21: Now 24, Grujic is at a stage in his career where he will likely want to settle down at one club rather than constantly be feeding off loan moves. James Pearce suggested in a Q&A for The Athletic that he could be sold by Liverpool in the summer but, having obtained regular game-time in a major European league over the past two years, there seems little more the Serbian can do to plead his case. With Adam Lallana set to leave in the summer and Naby Keita having an iffy injury record, Grujic may be kept as a squad player, but could well be entering a ‘now or never’ phase of his Liverpool career.

Sheyi Ojo

Liverpool career so far: The winger has played 13 times for Liverpool’s first team but only twice since summer 2016, both of which were in FA Cup matches. He enjoyed a burst of games towards the end of the 2015/16 Premier League, registering three assists for the Reds, but has not been able to establish himself at Anfield. [via TransferMarkt]

How he’s fared on loan: Having been loaned out to Fulham and Reims in recent seasons, Ojo has spent 2019/20 at Rangers under Steven Gerrard. A return of five goals and seven assists from 36 games appears decent yet unspectacular and looks rather less impressive when considering that he hasn’t scored since September or set up a goal since the start of December (as per TransferMarkt). Indeed, he has been a lightning rod for criticism from many ‘Gers fans.

Verdict for 2020/21: After a lean and much-maligned spell at Ibrox, where he had fallen out of Gerrard’s starting XI in the weeks leading up to the postponement of Scottish football in March, Ojo seems to have virtually no chance of making it at Liverpool with the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah ahead of him. Any half-decent transfer offer for the 22-year-old could well persuade the Reds to move him on for good.

Taiwo Awoniyi

Liverpool career so far: Liverpool signed the Nigerian striker nearly five years ago but he hasn’t even made a competitive matchday squad for the Reds, instead embarking on numerous loan spells around Europe in his continuing endeavours to obtain a UK work permit.

How he’s fared on loan: The latest stop on his scenic loan tour has seen the 22-year-old deployed at Mainz and, to say the least, it has not gone how he would have wanted. He has played a mere six times all season in Germany, failing to find the net from just 146 minutes of game-time, and has started just once in the Bundesliga. Awoniyi hasn’t even made the bench for Klopp’s former club since the turn of the year. [via TransferMarkt]

Verdict for 2020/21: He may have signed a new contract at Liverpool in 2018 but, given his abortive loan spell at Mainz, it’s virtually impossible to envisage Awoniyi getting anywhere near the Reds’ first team any time soon. His Anfield career has never taken off and, as things stand, it might not even leave the runway before he attempts to settle down elsewhere.

Rhian Brewster

Liverpool career so far: A prolific scorer in Liverpool’s under-23 side, Brewster made his first team debut against MK Dons in the Carabao Cup last September and played in two further domestic cup games for Klopp’s side later in the season. He has been on the bench for a handful of Premier League and Champions League games but hasn’t yet played in either competition (as per TransferMarkt).

How he’s fared on loan: Brewster joined Swansea on loan in January and made a strong start at the Liberty Stadium, scoring four times in 11 appearances for Steve Cooper’s men before the season ground to a halt two months ago. He had been starting regularly for the Swans, too, and the timing of the coronavirus-enforced stoppage of football was unfortunate for him.

Verdict for 2020/21: The 20-year-old’s form on loan at Swansea could earn him a stay at his parent club next season although much could depend on whether the Reds buy a striker in the summer, with Timo Werner heavily linked with an Anfield move. With Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi already ahead of him in the centre-forward queue, James Pearce’s suggestion in The Athletic of another loan move next term seems the best bet. Hopefully it would be to a Premier League club, the next logical step in Brewster’s development after adapting well to the Championship this year.

Harry Wilson

Liverpool career so far: A regular goalscorer for the under-23s, Wilson’s sole first team appearance for Liverpool remains the FA Cup replay against Plymouth in January 2017. Even a burst of four goals in pre-season last summer, including one superb long-range strike against Lyon, wasn’t enough to convince Klopp to give him any more competitive action for the Reds.

How he’s fared on loan: After scoring 18 goals in 49 games on loan at Derby last season, the Welsh winger has found the net six times in 23 Premier League matches for Bournemouth this term. He earned regular starts under Eddie Howe and has since proven that he can be an effective presence at top-flight level, although his last goals came at the end of November against Tottenham.

Verdict for 2020/21: Wilson has had two good seasons and shown that he can bag a few goals in the Premier League, so he has surely earned a sustained chance to prove his worth to Klopp at Liverpool. With fellow right winger Xherdan Shaqiri expected to leave in the summer and no other obvious backup to Salah on that flank, it’s high time that the Reds show faith in the 23-year-old Welshman to make his mark at Anfield.

Ben Woodburn

Liverpool career so far: The Welsh forward made history in November 2016 when his goal against Leeds in the EFL Cup made him Liverpool’s youngest-ever scorer. He played nine times for the Reds’ first team that season but added only a couple more since summer 2017, while that history-making goal remains his only one for the Anfield club (as per TransferMarkt).

How he’s fared on loan: An abortive loan spell at Sheffield United last term preceded a stint at Oxford this season which began well with a goal and five assists in 13 games but was cruelly cut short by a broken bone in his foot. He later suffered a similar injury in his other foot during his rehabilitation at Melwood (as per Liverpool Echo).

Verdict for 2020/21: Woodburn is still only 20 so time is very much on his side, although two less-than-ideal loan moves in the last couple of years threaten to stunt his development. Also, with the standard of attacking options at Klopp’s disposal, the best-case scenario for now seems to be either another loan switch (ideally to the Championship) or a prominent role within Liverpool’s under-23 setup to rebuild his form and momentum.

Liverpool fans, what do you think lies in store for the Reds’ on-loan players next season? Comment below with your views!

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