Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

Liverpool youngsters to get chance to impress Jurgen Klopp against Bradford City

Champions League winners face fourth-tier side as part of pre-season preparations and to raise money for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation

Rhian Brewster, left, scored twice against Tranmere Rovers and has been earmarked by Jurgen Klopp for an 'important' role. Getty Images
Rhian Brewster, left, scored twice against Tranmere Rovers and has been earmarked by Jurgen Klopp for an 'important' role. Getty Images

When Liverpool visited Bradford City 19 years ago, it cost them Uefa Champions League football. They return to Valley Parade on Sunday as Champions League winners. Much else has changed: that May 2000 defeat for Gerard Houllier’s team was the result that kept Bradford in the Premier League.

Now City, a club who have fallen on hard times, are in the fourth tier. A friendly will help raise money for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation, set up by Stephen Darby, a former defender for both clubs who had to retire at just 29 after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

The cause is special, but the game is typical. Liverpool beat Tranmere Rovers 6-0 on Thursday and, unlike their peers, they tend to start with local games against lower-division sides. That is Jurgen Klopp’s preference.

First-team players' returns have been staggered, depending upon their international duties during the summer, so most of the Champions League winners will not play until Liverpool face higher-calibre opponents, in Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Sporting Lisbon, in the United States. Yet there is still a certain significance to those jostling for places in the squad.

The Under-17 World Cup winner Rhian Brewster, who scored twice against Tranmere, is earmarked to fill the role of the departed Daniel Sturridge as the striking understudy. “I have told him he has an important role this season but how important depends on him,” Klopp said.

Brewster is essentially a centre-forward, but Klopp feels he has to be able to offer an option on the wings as well. With Xherdan Shaqiri sidelined by a calf injury, and questions if Sadio Mane, still in Africa Cup of Nations action, Mohamed Salah and the Copa America winner Roberto Firmino will be fully fit for the start of the season, Liverpool are short-staffed in attack at the moment. That offers opportunities to the emerging and the overlooked.

Harry Wilson, scorer of 18 goals for Derby County last season, was not expected to be at Anfield this season but Klopp felt he played “outstandingly” against Tranmere. Ben Woodburn, the third-youngest player in Liverpool’s history, had a wasted season last year but is still only 19 and Klopp praised his efforts on Thursday. The 18-year-old Bobby Duncan scored then and the focus on the forward is intensified by the fact he is Steven Gerrard’s cousin.

Then there is the Liverpool-born teenager Adam Lewis who, like Brewster, is a potential beneficiary of a summer exit. The left-back could replace Alberto Moreno, newly unveiled as a Villarreal player, as Andrew Robertson’s deputy.

The novelty factor is not coming from new recruits. Liverpool’s two additions, youngsters Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliott, may not feature yet. It has not escaped attention that Liverpool are yet to make a senior signing. The hints have long been that they may not.

Klopp shrugged off a lack of business by suggesting he had stockpiled reinforcements. “We brought them in already, only you didn’t notice,” he said on Thursday. The two he namechecked were Brewster and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, players who scarcely featured last season due to injury. Naby Keita, who had a stop-start debut year, joins Oxlade-Chamberlain in offering the potential of more dynamism in midfield.

It may explain an experiment. Pre-season tends to offer the first insights into Klopp’s thinking. In 2016, it showed that James Milner was being converted into a left-back. In 2017, there were glimpses of Gini Wijnaldum anchoring the midfield.

Now Adam Lallana operated as a No 6 at Prenton Park; perhaps his fine touch, willingness to press and understanding of the manager’s demands will equip him for a deeper role. While some of the attention will be on the young, an older Klopp favourite may be being reinvented.

Updated: July 14, 2019 08:13 AM