Jurgen Klopp has always handed opportunities to Liverpool’s young stars whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Quite often those come in the domestic cup competitions. With the Reds keen to battle for the Premier League title and the Champions League, chances for fringe or youngsters don’t tend to happen very often.
But that’s a different story in the FA Cup and League Cup. Klopp, in the early rounds at the very least, tries to make sure the next generation get game time to prove their skills.
That was most definitely the case on this day three years ago. Back then, Liverpool claimed a 2-0 win at MK Dons in the third round of the Carabao Cup.
While that game did not prove to mean much in the grand scheme of things that season, it did prove to be a big night for the five players that Klopp handed a senior Reds debut to.
Rhian Brewster, Herbie Kane, Harvey Elliott, Caoimhin Kelleher and Sepp van den Berg all made their Liverpool bows at Stadium MK. In the case of Elliott, he broke a record to become the club’s youngest ever player to be included in a starting line-up, aged 16 years and 174 days.
Klopp was full of praise for Elliott after that match. He had only recently arrived from Fulham with bags of potential and promise, and the clash against Milton Keynes was everyone’s first chance to watch the teenager in action.
“Sixteen years old still and this kind of footballer, it is good for us,” said Klopp. “(He is) a brilliant boy, takes the situation really well, wants to learn and he will always be a special player in moments but his overall game is really, really good.
He was a bit unlucky otherwise he would have scored, he is a good player but they are all good, we have no bad young players and that is why it is important we can give them these matches and try to continue like this.
While the night was the start of things to come for Elliott, it would not be the case for some of the others. In fact, just a year later two of the aforementioned debutants would be sold by Liverpool on permanent deals.
One would be Brewster, who signed for Sheffield United in October 2020. the Reds banked £23.5m for the striker, with the club also negotiating a 15% sell-on clause and a guaranteed buy-back option, which remains valid until 2023.
Brewster had made just four appearances for Liverpool that season, having only recently recovered from a serious injury that had kept him out of action for more than a year. The second half of 2019/20 was spent on loan with Swansea City, and it’s from here that the Reds used his form in the Championship to get some money for the player.
Klopp, though, wanted to make sure the player had the opportunities to play and enhance his development. The Liverpool manager knew that chances at Anfield would be few and far between at senior level.
Rhian couldn’t make it here, so far (into the first team),” Klopp said, just before Brewster signed for Sheffield United. “That’s pretty much the information. But he has made big steps in his development.
“Rhian was seriously injured, so first and foremost we had to make sure he was ready for all the demands of professional football again and he is now 100%. He had a really good half season at Swansea and was really impressive, he came here for pre-season and scored for us – you could see that he made big steps.
“It’s about development – if Rhian was now 25 or 26 we would say stay and work for your chance – it’s a different situation when you are younger. A player like Rhian in this position, it’s important he makes the next steps and uses the time he lost during the serious injury.
“It’s possible a move to another club would make sense but I don’t know exactly what will happen there.”
Another player to be sold by Liverpool was Kane. The Reds reportedly received a £1.2m fee from Barnsley for the young midfielder in 2020.
But despite this, he would make just four appearances for Liverpool – the win over MK Dons and then further cup clashes against Aston Villa and Shrewsbury Town – before being sold to Wolves in September 2020. And even though he was leaving a big club, Hoever admitted at the time that it was not entirely a difficult decision to make.
“It wasn’t an easy choice, but it wasn’t that hard either,” Hoever told Goal in March 2021. “I knew my playing time would be more than at Liverpool, that’s why I made the decision. I thought it was the best thing for my career in the moment.