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Can Leighton Clarkson develop as James Milner's replacement?

Leighton Clarkson is blessed in the fact he is able to learn his trade in arguably the best footballing environment in world football.

The 19-year-old has been one of Liverpool’s most exciting by-products of the Academy for many years. Last season, was a particularly impressive campaign for Clarkson who clocked up 24 appearances for both the senior and youth team before the season was curtailed earlier this year.

Having progressed from the U18s set-up, Clarkson has quickly become a regular for Barry Lewtas and the U23 team and is slowly but surely making himself a viable option for Jurgen Klopp.

In fact, Klopp picked him out as one of the ‘sensational’ young players who has made a lasting impression training with the first-team during the international break.

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Considering Liverpool’s shortage of midfield options that currently sees Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita nursing injuries, circumstances have forced Clarkson’s name into the first-team picture.

Also, injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, who have both sustained long-term knee injuries, have seen a positional change for Fabinho in defence which has meant one fewer midfielder as a result.

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This effectively leaves just Georginio Wijnaldum, Curtis Jones and James Milner as the manager’s only fit and available midfield options.

Considering all three players started against Leicester at the weekend, whether or not Klopp chooses to include the aforementioned trio in his starting XI against Atalanta, especially if he wanted to use them against Brighton away on Saturday, which at this stage, is arguably a bigger match.

This raises the question of who else can help compensate for Liverpool’s current shortage in midfield. If we are judging by Sunday’s bench, Clarkson is Klopp’s next viable candidate to take the reigns.

The teenager has taken a real step forward with his performances and Liverpool need to try and provide a first-team pathway, especially given now represents Klopp’s best opportunity to take a gamble with his selection choices.

The best solution is to slot Clarkson in as Milner’s understudy, and eventual successor. 

Milner has already clocked up 12 appearances for Liverpool this season and is still seen as an integral player by his manager Klopp.

He will be 35 come the end of the season and even someone as physically resolute as Milner will know that his time in the professional game is slowly coming to an end.

Clarkson is renowned for his ability to play as a holding midfielder although he has also been utilised in central midfield as well as on the wing.

Similarly to Milner, versatility is one of Clarkson’s greatest assets, which is sure to make him stand out in the eyes of Klopp.

It would be great to see Klopp reward Clarkson for his recent improvement and to begin intergrating him into the first-team.

Slot in him to learn with Milner at first-team level and give him the chance to grow. 

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Liverpool have so much talent in the academy, it is important to show the top performers there is a route to first-team action.

Milner will need replacing at some stage. He has persistantly been referenced as a positive mentor for young players, and Clarkson could learn a lot from him.

Liverpool should make it a priority to start phasing in the promising young talent between now and the end of the season.

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