Liverpool Youth Academy players Ben Doak and Isaac Mabaya are making great strides in their pursuit of first team football.
It takes a special type of player to break into Liverpool’s first team, but supporters could yet see some new faces this season.
With the pathway of success from Kirkby to Anfield already paved by the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones, evidence exists that Jurgen Klopp is more than prepared to give youth a chance if the highest of standards can be met.
Opportunities for the Reds’ young guns may have been made harder by the acquisition of bright young talent from elsewhere, like Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho, but that doesn’t mean the door of Anfield hope has been closed on other Academy prospects. Bobby Clark and Stefan Bajcetic have already proven that budding stars can take the next step by making their first team debuts.
Forward Clark was a late substitute in Liverpool’s 9-0 demolition of Bournemouth last month, along with Spaniard Bajcetic who last week also managed to get a first Champions League appearance on the board, coming on as a late replacement for Thiago Alcantara.
If the first team door has been left ajar, one of those who looks likely to barge it open is 16-year-old Ben Doak. The young Scotsman is no Liverpool lifer. He only moved to Merseyside from Celtic this summer, with the Reds paying the Bhoys a £600,000 compensation fee. But his impact has been immediate.
Doak had already made two first-team appearances for the Hoops when Klopp came calling. Since making the move south of the border, the ultra-skilful forward has been earning rave reviews for Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s U18s side. In five appearances, he has scored three goals and provided three assists.
Constantly looking to take opponents on in the final third, the Scot is proving to be a nightmare for defenders to mark and already has the look of a player who can excite crowds, once given a first team opportunity.
His early impact has not gone unnoticed by the Reds’ U21s coach Barry Lewtas. Speaking after Doak played a starring role in a UEFA Youth League triumph against Napoli, Lewtas said: “Sometimes you can watch a player in the flesh a number of times, but it’s very much different when you are working with them as well. You get to learn their personality, to see what they offer the team, and I was really impressed. Ben linked the game up well.”
For his part, Lewtas will have been satisfied to see Clark and Bajcetic given first team cameos, as more potential future stars battle for minutes in front of Klopp, but another could yet emerge in the near future. Isaac Mabaya is a versatile player who operates either in midfield or at right-back. Considered competent enough to be included in the first team’s pre-season tours and Asia and Austria, he will turn 18 this week, having first joined the Reds at the age of six. Could he be the next player off the production line to pull on a first team shirt?
Liverpool may still be suffering something of an injury crisis, but earning a senior call-up to one of the top-ranked clubs in European football is still very much a tall order and opportunities are rare.
However, the Reds’ condensed fixture list, which is set to become even more crammed after the rearrangement of Premier League fixtures against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea, may yet provide a chance for someone.
Derby County will visit Anfield on November 9 when Liverpool get their defence of the Carabao Cup underway at the third round stage. With so many other important matches in and around it and an injury list that has not yet abated, maybe the League Cup will provided the platform to give some regular starters a rest and offer a break to the likes of Doak and Mabaya.
Liverpool’s double domestic cup triumph came at a late cost last season as assaults on the Premier League and Champions League failed at the last hurdle, but if Klopp returns to a more experimental approach in the knockout competitions this season, we could yet see a flying Scotsman giving the Rams the run-around on the fields of Anfield Road in a couple of months’ time.