Scouting the Best of Liverpool's Youth and Reserve Team Players
Following the recent departures of academy directors Frank McParland and Rodolfo Borrell, you may assume that Liverpool's youth set-up is struggling.
That, though, could not be further from the truth—the club have the best crop of talent that has come through the ranks in quite some time.
The work done by McParland, Borrell and Pep Segura has ensured that the academy is in good health and that the club is closer to its target of having 50 percent of the first-team squad come through the academy, as McParland explained to The Anfield Wrap last year.
Under Brendan Rodgers, we've seen Andre Wisdom, Jordon Ibe, Jerome Sinclair, Samed Yesil, Conor Coady, Suso and Adam Morgan handed their debuts for the club.
Indeed, out of 13 players to make their debuts for Liverpool last season, seven of them were from the academy.
Add in Raheem Sterling, Jack Robinson and Jon Flanagan, who had already made their debuts previously, and that's 10 players last season who had come through the academy—admittedly, some of them were signed from other clubs later in their development.
So far this season, we've not seen any academy debutants, but Flanagan has gained his way back into the first-team reckoning after working hard at under-21s level.
Here's a look at the best of the current academy group and who could make the step up to the first team in the future.
Position: Winger / Forward
A fairly obvious choice to begin with, Ibe is a tremendous talent. He was handed a surprise debut on the final day of the season in May and impressed against QPR.
Ibe is strong, fast and technically gifted. Due to his position as a winger or wide forward, comparisons are naturally made with Raheem Sterling. Some argue that Ibe is the brighter prospect of the two, at a year younger.
Signed from Wycombe in December 2011, Ibe had already made his professional debut at just age 15. On his full debut for Wanderers, he scored to become the club's youngest ever goalscorer.
He made his England under-19s debut earlier this year, started the League Cup tie at home to Notts County and trains with the first-team squad at Melwood now—hence he isn't always included in Alex Ingelthorpe's under-21s squad.
Of all Liverpool's youngest, Ibe is the most likely to become a regular.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
A little over a year ago, then aged 16, Brannagan was speaking of his aim to break into the under-18s side.
Now, he's not only done that, but he's also been promoted to Inglethorpe's under-21s, is a regular starter and has already trained with the first-team squad.
The local lad, who has been at the academy since under-9s level, was recently rewarded for his progress by signing a new contract at the club.
In the Liverpool under-21s match against Aston Villa on Monday night, Brannagan impressed in the attacking central midfield role, behind Michael Ngoo. He is happy to come deeper to collect the ball, and his passing is crisp, calm and measured.
Brannagan was on the scoresheet as the under-21s beat PSV in a friendly recently.
A gifted player, superb technically and very likely to make the step up to the first team in the future. Just remember, he's not long turned 17!
Regular attendees at Liverpool's academy games will tell you—and they'd be correct in doing so—that Ward is by far the best goalkeeper to line up for the under-21s in quite some time.
Liverpool signed Ward from Wrexham in a deal worth £100,000 in January 2012, as per BBC. He was named on the bench for the League Cup tie against Swansea last season at Anfield and was part of the squad that toured the USA last summer.
He's also highly rated by his country, having been called up the Wales national squad by Chris Coleman last month.
Ward's handling is good, he's comfortable at collecting high balls, his distribution is good and he commands his area well. He's a very well-rounded keeper, especially for his age.
Joao Carlos Teixeira
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Liverpool signed Teixeira in January 2012 for a reported £830,000 from Sporting Lisbon after he impressed against the Reds in the NextGen Series.
As he was capped for Portugal at under-21 level, Teixeira's talent is without question. He ran the show for Liverpool's under-21s in their recent match against Aston Villa, playing from the left side of attack in a similar fashion to how Philippe Coutinho has been used for the first team recently.
Teixeira was loaned to Brentford earlier this season but returned early after just two substitute appearances. The Bees' sporting director Mark Warburton told BBC Sport, "Unfortunately we were not able to give Jaoa the opportunity to demonstrate his obvious talent."
Another loan could be on the cards for Teixeira imminently, as he is clearly too good to be playing just under-21s football.
Perhaps the early rounds of the FA Cup could see Teixeira involved with the first team.
FT: 2-0 - Basically...Joao Carlos Teixeira. Easily the best player on the pitch. Brad Smith not far behind. Ward, Rossiter & Yesil good too.— MrBoywunder (@MrBoywunder) December 2, 2013
Yesil was signed from Bayer Leverkusen last summer for £1 million and found himself making his Liverpool debut much sooner than he and the club may have anticipated—due to the forward shortage that faced Brendan Rodgers last autumn.
The German goalscorer started the League Cup ties against West Brom and Swansea but suffered a few injuries and in February was sidelined after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament on international duty with Germany under-19s.
He made his first start for Liverpool under-21s since returning from injury against Villa on Monday night and marked it with a goal, playing on the right of the attack.
If Yesil can regain full fitness and match sharpness, he could force his way into first-team plans or benefit from a loan spell.
Nationality: Northern Irish
The Belfast-born full-back arrived at Liverpool in 2011 and was part of the squad that toured the USA in Brendan Rodgers' first summer in charge, making his unofficial debut in the friendly against Roma—marking none other than Francesco Totti!
He signed a new deal at the club earlier this year and is clearly highly rated, but he has suffered with niggling injuries of late.
The 18-year-old was called up to the Northern Ireland squad in August, preferring to concentrate on his club football, as per BBC Sport.
With a shortage of full-backs in the first-team squad, McLaughlin—should he remain fully fit—could find himself pushing for a place in Rodgers' squad as back-up to Glen Johnson.
McLaughlin's style certainly suits the style of full-back Rodgers desires: attacking with pace and quality in the final third.
Best of the Rest
Local lad Jordan Rossiter (pictured above) is a tough tackling midfielder, deployed alongside Jordan Lussey in Alex Inglethorpe's midfield. He's just 16 years old but a regular for the under-21s already.
American Marc Pelosi is another highly rated player at the club, having recently signed a new contract despite being sidelined with a broken leg in February. A versatile player who can operate at left-back, left-midfield or centre-midfield, Pelosi was on the verge of a first-team call-up prior to his injury, according to This Is Anfield's Michael Sweeting.
Sweeting reports that Inglethorpe had confirmed that Pelosi and left-back Brad Smith were both in line for first-team call-ups prior to them both suffering long-term injuries.
Smith is now back in action and was very impressive in the under-21s' last match against Aston Villa. Smith overlapped expertly down the left and provided the assist for Ngoo's headed goal. An excellent delivery from wide areas.
The future could well be bright for these players and Liverpool.