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Academy Watch – Under 18 Rising Stars

Over the years, the Kirkby Academy has produced some of the club’s best players, including Anfield legends Stephen Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has played in two Champions League finals, subsequently establishing himself as the first-choice right-back.

And today Rhian Brewster has the chance to shine in the EFL Cup game against MK Dons.

Here we take a look at some of the players currently biding their time in Liverpool’s academy as they wait for their breakthrough.

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Investing & Developing Youth

Liverpool is recruiting and investing heavily in youth. This may have had an impact on the recent transfer window, which saw no new additions to the first-team squad bar backup keeper Adrian.

In previous roles at Mainz and Dortmund, Jürgen Klopp prepared for the longer term by investing in young players.

He demonstrated that he was prepared to give youngsters their opportunity, but only when they are ready.

As most football fans have seen over the years, the journey to first-team football is an uncertain one, with many twists and turns — only the very best make it.

Under 18’s Sparkling Gems

The clubs’ talented U18’s squad, managed by Barry Lewtas, is enjoying a great start to the season.

With 3 wins and a draw from their opening 4 games, including a thrilling 4-3 win over Manchester United, the young Reds are currently second in the Premiership table.

The style of play, positional shape, defensive press and attacking ethos is instantly recognisable from the first team.

As a result, players are well prepared when they are promoted. Each knows his role and responsibilities because he is playing the same way in the youth ranks. It makes the transition much easier.

Four players who have caught the eye so this season are Jake Cain, Billy Koumetio, Layton Stewart and Leighton Clarkson.

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Jake Cain

Steven Gerrard gave Cain his U18 debut in the 2017/18 season when he was still playing for the U16’s. He joined the Academy at U9 and is a highly rated, creative midfielder who’s comfortable using either foot.

He is good friends with Leighton Clarkson off the pitch and it shows on it. Their playing styles complement each other in midfield.

Cain works hard, creates chances and, as a result, contributes to goals. His set-piece delivery was also among the most dangerous tools at Lewtas’ disposal last season.

Cain’s numbers are on track to improve this season, with 2 goals and 4 assists in his four games this season. In his 16 appearances for the U18s last season, he scored 3 and had a team-best 11 assists.

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Billy Koumetio

Billy Koumetio is just 16 and a current French U17 international. He started his career in 2014 with Lyon; however, the Reds signed him for a nominal fee from French side US Orleans in January 2019 following an impressive trial last November.

He was initially signed for the U16 squad, however, he moved to the U18’s in July and has made three starts this season.

Predominately left-footed, Koumetio is athletic and comfortable playing out from the back. He is tall, good in the air and fond of a tackle so ticks all the boxes as a ball-playing center-back.

Much like Liverpool’s current center-back crop, Koumetio possesses the physical tools to win battles at the back while also possessing the technical ability to contribute in possession.

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Layton Stewart

Local lad Layton Stewart has been at the academy from the age of seven. Like Cain, it was Gerrard who gave him his U18 debut in April 2019. He is an all-action, intelligent center-forward with an eye for goal, scoring 3 times this season, including a stunning late winner against Stoke City.

Stewart is comfortable dropping deep to link up play. He makes intelligent runs between defenders who can’t switch off for a second. Quick, aggressive and brave, Stewart will get himself into positions where he might get the ball or get a knock in the process.

His solid start has also come to the attention of many outside Liverpool resulting in his first U18 international call up. Stewart started and created a goal in England’s 3-2 win over Australia.

Leighton Clarkson

Before the Burnley game, Jurgen Klopp brought 17-year-old Leighton Clarkson to Melwood to train with the first-team.

Clarkson has been the standout player for the U18’s this season, further cementing him as one of the Academy’s brightest prospects.

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Since joining the club at age seven he has developed into a wonderfully creative midfielder. Clarkson is an intelligent footballer, who works hard for the team and also has brilliant game awareness.

He is equally comfortable dropping deep, taking the ball from the defense and playing between the opposition lines.

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Clarkson launches attacks by playing forward, he also picks the right pass and makes the right runs at the right time.

It is not only his all-round game which is so impressive. His high energy levels and willingness to work tirelessly for the team also makes him the type of player Klopp prefers.

First Team Pathway

Whilst it is one of the best-known cliches in youth football it still remains true. Results are important, however, performance and development is the clear priority.

This is certainly true for Lewtas and his management team who will be looking to promote players through to the first team.

Klopp has shown if players are good enough he will give them a chance when he believes they are ready.

Players need to keep learning, and working hard. Just as importantly they need to be patient, take good advice and grab their opportunity when it comes.

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