With all the growing talks regarding Liverpool’s lack of central defensive cover, Sepp van den Berg picked a timely moment to remind Jurgen Klopp that he is settling well into his role as part of the senior set-up with the Reds.
His towering presence during Liverpool’s 7-2 victory against Blackpool in the second half was an assured and composed indication that his career prospects at Anfield could be on an upward trajectory.
But just how far away is Van den Berg from making that next step?
Time on his side
Considering the fact he is still just 18 years old should add some context of what should be expected of the Liverpool teenager at such an early stage of the player’s development.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the Netherland U19’s international following his arrival on Merseyside. Liverpool had to fight off competition from Bayern Munich, PSV and Ajax to secure Van den Berg’s services which initially indicated to supporters that the defender was a prospect to keep a keen eye on.
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Van den Berg arrived alongside Harvey Elliott last summer which in effect meant his development was assessed at a similar trajectory to the former Fulham academy graduate who appears a lot more defined in his pathway of breaking into Klopp’s senior XI set-up than Van den Berg.
Whereas Elliott has already featured twice in the English top-flight under Klopp, Van den Berg has been limited to just four senior appearances (three EFL Cup and one FA Cup) and seems no closer to a sustainable run with the first team than he did upon his arrival.
Unsurprisingly Van den Berg has at times cut a shy and modest figure which is understandable when considering he has joined a team littered with global superstars who have all won both the Premier League and Champions League over the past year.
Players develop at different stages
Liverpool though to their credit have kept Van den Berg away from the limelight and have tried to avoid the teenager falling under the spotlight by putting to much pressure on him at such an early stage in his development.
Players develop differently and Van den Berg should be given time. Elliott has showcased he is a rare generational talent given at the age of just 16 he became the Premier League’s youngest ever debutant.
Because of this, it is wrong to compare both player’s development together to judge whether one is cut to make it at the top and the other is just not quite up to it.
Another factor that has worked against Van den Berg recently has been Liverpool’s recent need of a viable fourth choice central defensive option in Klopp’s squad.
There have been talks of Fabinho plugging holes in defence once again as well as the temptation to dip into the market for a viable Lovren replacement. Billy Koumetio has also staked a claim following an inspiring few weeks in pre-season for the 17-year-old.
Van den Berg has rarely been tipped as a viable option to cover following Lovren’s departure yet following yesterday’s calm and assured display there is certainly still an argument to be made for the Dutch-born defender.
Klopp has a problem to solve in defence and Van den Berg will want to showcase he can represent a viable solution. Saturday’s Anfield performance at least gave everyone a glimpse that there is still certainly more to come from Liverpool’s 2019 summer signing.
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