The start of Liverpool’s Carabao Cup campaign presents Jurgen Klopp with the perfect opportunity to hand some valuable first-team minutes to a handful of promising youngsters at the club.
The Reds’ starting line-up for the third-round tie at MK Dons is expected to feature a considerable number of changes from Sunday’s 2-1 Premier League win at Chelsea.
The rigours of a congested Premier League and Champions League schedule have taken toll on the European champions, with Xherdan Shaqiri, Sadio Mane, Divock Origi and Alisson Becker unavailable for Wednesday’s trip to the League One side.
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Rhian Brewster, Harvey Elliott and Caoimhin Kelleher could make their debuts for Liverpool at stadiummk, but with Reds assistant Pep Lijnders stressing a “Premier League” team will be fielded, are these promising youngsters ready to make the step up?
MK Dons vs Liverpool
September 25, 2019, 7:30pm
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The 19-year-old striker, who top scored with eight goals as England won the U17 World Cup in 2017, has yet to make a senior appearance for Liverpool, but his long-awaited senior debut could come on Wednesday night.
Liverpool assistant Lijnders is confident that the England U21 forward, who was an unused substitute at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, will make an impact at the top level, labelling him “a complete striker”.
“That he is already on the bench away at Chelsea, for me, is massive,” Lijnders said. “It makes us all proud. If he does start or doesn’t start tomorrow, he is a player who is every time more ready.
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“He had a long injury, it was not that easy for him. But he has goals in him, he has technique, good physically.
“He is a complete striker, a typical nine who can come first post, score with his head, turn in the box, play one-on-one, can score a scruffy goal as well, unbelievable shot. And a good boy. But let’s see.”
Wednesday’s League Cup clash would usually have been the ideal opportunity to give back-up goalkeeper Adrian some game time.
But with the Spaniard promoted to first-team stopper in light of Alisson’s lengthy spell on the treatment table, Kelleher could get his first taste of first-team action at Liverpool.
Remarkably, the 20-year-old is yet to play a single minute of senior football for the Reds but collected a Champions League winners’ medal for his role as an unused substitute against Tottenham in Madrid in June.
“He was a little bit unlucky in pre-season otherwise he would have played already more games,” Lijnders told Liverpool’s official website.
“He’s a talented goalie and with all talented boys it’s about in the right moments giving the right opportunities in the contact stuff, when they are with the senior players around, when there is something at stake. That can really give them the next step and the confidence to grow.”
The 16-year-old midfielder traded Fulham for Liverpool in the summer after his breakthrough campaign at Craven Cottage saw him become the Premier League’s youngster player.
A year to the day after making his debut as a 15-year-old for Fulham, Elliott is line for a place in Klopp’s squad on Wednesday, having been a regular for the U23s this term.
And he has impressed in training, insists Lijnders, who adds that the youngster has the footballing radar of a player beyond his years.
“What a surprise he was when he came for the first sessions,” said Lijnders. “Some players, they play as if they are already say 28 or 29, he’s a player who sees so much around him before things happen.
“It’s not easy to step into our training because if you want to play high intensity football, you have to train high intensity football. I don’t want to put him under more pressure, but we’re really happy he is with us.”
Who else to look out for…
Klopp insists he has no “fringe” players in his squad, but Wednesday gives Liverpool the opportunity to hand out minutes to those who have struggled to break into a competitive Reds side this term.
Curtis Jones could be a starter; the 18-year-old central midfielder has been a regular for the U23 side, made his senior debut in the FA Cup defeat at Wolves in January, and has had sporadic spells in the squad since.
Ki-Jana Hoever, the 17-year-old Dutch right-back, could also be in the squad, while Joe Gomez, who has just one Premier League start, should start alongside Dejan Lovren, who is yet to play a minute.