Paul Stafford advises fans to be patient with Liverpool’s academy players and give them time to grow into the stars they can become.
Sunday’s F.A. Cup third round draw saw Liverpool take on Plymouth Argyle at Anfield, culminating in a 0-0 stalemate that sets up a replay at Plymouth during an already congested fixture list. Jürgen Klopp fielded a young side with an average age of 21, and it showed! The Reds dominated the first half, creating very few scoring opportunities, but never really troubled the opposition keeper.
Divock Origi, himself a youngster, led the attack and put the ball into the net only to be judged to have committed a foul in doing so. To put things into perspective: Liverpool’s young guns failed to deliver and struggled to score against a side from the fourth tier of English football. The game arguably proved that they are not quite ready for the “big dance” as they could not find a way to score against a packed defence. Not even bringing on the big guns in the forms of Sturridge, Lallana and Firmino could inspire victory as they struggled to find a way against lower opposition.
But if you focus on the individual displays of the young players instead of as a collective, there is more to it than meets the eye. Ejaria put in an energetic display in the first half, helping out in defence and contributing to the attack, sending Trent Alexander-Arnold through down the flank with some pin-point passes. He needs more game time, but he’s definitely one for the future
Kevin Stewart put in a solid performance at midfield alongside Emre Can, stringing together more passes in the first half than the whole Plymouth side. He may not have had his shooting boots on, but he is growing in confidence.
Ben Woodburn showed glimpses of what he is capable of by confidently and enthusiastically taking on defenders in the opposition box. His final touch let him down on occasion, but the desire is there. He is definitely worth persevering with.
Trent Alexander-Arnold did a fine job as an overlapping fullback, putting in low crosses into the danger area.
Joe Gomez – out for 16 months with a series of serious injuries, played his first senior game of the season, filling in alongside the veteran Lucas. He did okay, but he looked rusty after being out for so long, which is quite understandable considering his lengthy spell out. Klopp will be calling upon him for the second half of the season as he gains match fitness, however, it will take some time for him to get up to speed.
And this brings us to Ojo, who has also been out for a lengthy spell due to injury. He didn’t put in a stand-out performance and went missing for long periods of the game, but so did Origi! He never really made an impact on the game and must be low in confidence. Time will tell if he is the answer that Klopp has been looking for on the wing.
The team struggled as a whole and will have their work cut out for them in the replay, but individually, there were glimpses of what these young guns are capable of and playing alongside first-team regulars instead of a whole team of inexperienced younglings would be beneficial in their development.
It could be that these young players have been over-hyped, and are struggling to live up to the expectations of a pressure-filled atmosphere which is Anfield, but with Klopp’s guidance and being brought slowly into the first team, hopefully, these young guns will learn to deal with the pressure of expectation and make good in the years to come.
Patience is what is needed!