Young players to watch in Liverpool's EFL Cup clash
Background image: Polo Metz
Liverpool face Aston Villa tonight in the quarter-final of the EFL Cup but you might have heard there's a slight problem. Twenty first-teamers, including promising youngsters Curtis Jones and Neco Williams, are more than 5,000 km away in Qatar to compete in the Club World Cup. Their semi-final against Liga MX side Monterrey kicks off 19 hours after the Villa game. Jurgen Klopp threatened to pull out of the competition after hearing about the fixture clash but has now agreed to send an inexperienced side to Villa Park. With many of Liverpool’s starlets set to get a first-team chance, if you can call it that, here are a few to watch.
Already with a goal to his name in the competition after netting in the 2-0 third-round victory at MK Dons, Hoever will likely start again on Tuesday. Where, is the question. The 17-year-old proved competent at both right-back and centre-back with Liverpool’s U23s. The Dutch teen became Liverpool’s youngest player to feature in the FA Cup in January when he was 16 years and 354 days old. He comes to Melwood from the famed Ajax academy and led Netherlands’ U17s to that level's World Cup last summer, scoring a sublime solo effort in the quarterfinal. Expect the teen to be tasked with handling an in-form Jack Grealish, potentially his toughest test to date.
Sepp van den Berg
Another 17-year-old Dutch defender is expected to partner Hoever in defence. Van den Berg was chased by several top clubs after impressing with his local side, PEC Zwolle. Liverpool secured his services for £1.3 million with a potential £3.1 million in add-ons. That ought to tell you his potential. The ginger teen made his first Liverpool start in the 5-5 EFL Cup draw with Arsenal that Liverpool won on penalties. He was on the ball plenty, making 87 passes with a 93% accuracy and, despite conceding five goals, held his own alongside seasoned professionals like James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The teen is one of Liverpool’s highest-rated youth prospects. His comfort on the ball and defensive capability are worth scouting in this clash.
This youngster broke onto the scene at Fulham in last season's latter stages, coming on against Wolves in May as the Premier League’s youngest-ever player at 16 years and 30 days. This was after playing for the Cottagers in last year’s EFL Cup at just 15. Liverpool landed him despite reported interest from Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain. The Reds started Elliott in both of their EFL Cup games this season. He hit the woodwork twice against MK Dons but made three key passes. The winger matched that statistic in the Arsenal game and won a penalty. Still only 16 he is already making his case to join the Liverpool first team.
Longstaff, no relation to Sean or Matty, arrived at Anfield from Newcastle United in 2015. The 18-year-old winger is a consistent performer with three goals and an assist so far this term. He can play on either wing as well as behind the striker and was involved with the England youth set-up at the U16 level. Longstaff was left on the bench for the MK Dons match earlier but has a good chance to start this time around.
At 21, England’s H. Kane 2.0 is the senior player in this group. He's already taken a loan spell away from Merseyside, spending last season with Doncaster Rovers where he netted seven goals. The Bristol native is a lively central midfield player who represented England at youth level. He has been playing regularly for Liverpool’s U23s this season, notching two goals and two assists in the Premier League 2. He came on to replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the MK Dons tilt but stayed on the bench against Arsenal. He should be on the pitch from the start at Villa Park.