Jürgen Klopp believes Liverpool would have been lost this season without Curtis Jones, Caoimhin Kelleher and other academy talents seizing their opportunities on the first-team stage.
The Liverpool manager could give several youngsters their Champions League debuts at FC Midtjylland on Wednesday with Group D on and senior players in the midst of a gruelling schedule. Kelleher is again expected to start in Alisson’s absence, having impressed against Ajax and Wolves. The seamless introduction of the 22-year-old goalkeeper, the midfielder Jones and the defenders Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams plus Neco Williams is, according to Klopp, why Liverpool sit top of their Champions League group and joint-top of the Premier League.
Klopp said: “We lost top-class players to injuries and, of course, one door closes and another opens up, but you still need the right players to use the chance. All the boys did it. What Rhys Williams did in the Champions League so far is exceptional. What Nat did when he played in the Premier League was absolutely exceptional. Neco played two really good games in a row, especially the last one. Curtis plays like he’s played with us for 10 years. Caoimhin was always a talent and now he has the chance to show that on the big stage.
“Without them we would have been lost. Thank god it worked out. The biggest part is that they are really ready for this. They are the biggest reason for it. Vitor [Matos, elite development coach] and Pepijn Lijnders [assistant manager and former first-team development coach] were really close to that group before they joined up so they were really prepared; that is why we would use them in the way we have.”
Liverpool have more young talent on their Champions League squad list, including the French central defender Billy Koumetio, who will become the youngest player to appear for the club in the competition at 18 years and 25 days if selected. The teenagers Leighton Clarkson and Layton Stewart are also eligible and Klopp, while claiming not to have finalised his lineup, said: “They will all play a part in my my thinking.”
He added: “It is the first time we don’t have to get a result in the last match of the group stage and we have to consider the general situation. But we are Liverpool and we want to win the game. Getting to 15 points is another reason [Liverpool’s best haul is 14] and we will try everything, but we cannot completely forget that we have to play six games in the next 22 days. Some of my boys played six or seven games in the last 22 days already.”