Whilst the news of Liverpool’s Carabao Cup quarter final date against Aston Villa was met with confusion and scepticism, it has presented the youngsters with a massive opportunity.
The clash will be played at Villa Park on December 17 and, as you will already know, Jürgen Klopp’s men are set to play in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final in Qatar just a day later.
With fixture congestion over the winter period proving hard to reschedule, Liverpool have announced that they will be using two different squads over the two day period, which will almost certainly provide the academy products with another glimpse of first-team football after their heroics in the last round penalty triumph and comeback against Arsenal.
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With the absence of Klopp, u23’s boss Neil Critchley will be in the dugout for the quarter-final, already familiar with the youth stars who could push Liverpool into the semi-finals of the League Cup.
In many ways, at least for the squad that will face the Villans, it is a win-win situation. Dean Smith’s side will most likely field a strong starting eleven — the Midlands club are seeking their first piece of silverware since 1996 (coincidentally the League Cup), meaning that the pressure will be minimal for the young stars that will try to defy the odds yet again.
One of the players that can be expected to feature is Curtis Jones, who we already know is making a name for himself at his boyhood club. The 18- year-old is grasping every chance that he is being given by Klopp, notably making a star contribution against Arsenal in the previous round. He laid on an assist for Divock Origi’s first on the night, and then went on to score the winning penalty on a simply chaotic night at Anfield.
The Scouser has been involved with the first team for a few years now, with his first inclusion with the squad coming in late 2016 when he was named on the bench when Sadio Mané ’s iconic 94th-minute winner was the difference at Goodison Park against Everton. Liverpool’s FA Cup exit last season against Wolves at Molineux was an underwhelming night for fans, but Jones made a clear impact whenever he received the ball – a bright spark on a disappointing night.
Reds are growing increasingly familiar with the midfielder, having featured in five of seven pre-season fixtures which saw him included on the plane for Liverpool’s tour around the United States in July. A man of the match performance against MK Dons has followed, and whilst the teenager is reserved and seemingly shy off the field, he certainly doesn’t lack any confidence on it.
He could see himself starring alongside Harvey Elliott. The 16-year-old is dispelling the belief that age is a factor in football, possessing the technique and vigour expected from a Premier League starlet. The former Fulham man’s rise has been well documented over the past year, and he is arguably Liverpool’s most exciting prospect in a current crop of blossoming talent at The Academy.
Although it was Jones who picked up the Man of the Match accolade at Stadium MK, Elliott flourished, striking the woodwork twice and demonstrating his natural flair in the process. Klopp and co will understandably be patient and ease him into the squad rather than throw him at the deep end instantly, but December’s trip to Villa Park seems a fitting way to showcase his talent once more.
He is recognised as a natural goalscorer, but Rhian Brewster’s two appearances this season haven’t yielded a first professional goal, although there is a lot to be enthusiastic about otherwise. His pre-season performances caught the eye of many, and with a bag full of goals at youth level the London-born striker is keen to open his account for the first team.
Last round’s penalty shootout did see Brewster slot home from 12 yards, and the subsequent celebrations from the 18-year-old showed passion in abundance – something that is essential at this club. If he is to continue providing the effort levels, speed and dedication that he has when on the pitch, he will have no problems grabbing himself his first goal. Could a first goal against Villa provide him with an early Christmas present?
These are just a few of a plethora of players to have already caught the eye with stellar performances in the recent League Cup fixtures. Caoimhín Kelleher will also be expected to start, with his penalty save in the shootout the difference against the Gunners. He also made a string of impressive saves in Milton Keynes in October.
Depth will obviously be non-existent when Liverpool travel to the Midlands, so a few lesser-known youth players could be used as alternatives from the bench such as 16-year old Billy Koumetio, who made the switch from Lyon to Merseyside this year and was present on the sidelines in the previous round.
The absence of James Milner and Andy Robertson will most likely see Yasser Larouci at left-back, who also enjoyed a pre-season tour of the States with the club this summer. Neco Williams, who was relatively unknown before his wonderful showing against Arsenal, should see an opportunity come his way again next round, with Ki-Jana Hoever presumably playing a more central role in defence (should the pair play). With opportunities like these evidently coming in profusion for Liverpool’s kids, it does make you question why Bobby Duncan ever left for Fiorentina in August.
Ultimately, there is no laughing matter about the League Cup – Liverpool proudly display their record number of wins, eight on the ‘Wall of Champions’ at Anfield and Melwood for a reason. Whilst the nature of the competition over recent years has seen its reputation tarnished to an extent, whenever silverware is on the line Liverpool should be striving to bring it home. The fact that the youngsters share this mentality is precisely why they are at the club.
Whilst the circumstances aren’t ideal, it is a massive chance for these players to continue to make a name for themselves.