Liverpool find themselves sitting on top of the Premier League table in what is one of the most bizarre seasons ever as they head into the busy festive period.
It is never easy to defend a title, especially on the back of an unprecedented season that saw a growing injury list, COVID-19 cases and lack of a pre-season just some of the many issues Jurgen Klopp had to deal with.
But here is the silver lining:
The congested fixture list and injury concerns have handed the club's youngsters a perfect opportunity to step up and potentially break into the first team, without the pressure that comes with a packed stadium.
Here, we take a look at eight of the young players — some already regarded as part of the first team set up, some we had seen only glimpses of — who we think will have their songs sung by the Kop in years to come.
Read also: 8 Most Exciting Youngsters to follow in TAA’s footsteps (written earlier this year, and how much have changed!)
8. Luis Longstaff
The English winger is an exciting prospect for the Reds, having joined the club from Newcastle United's academy back in 2015. The now 19-year-old is secured at the club until 2022 and widely tipped as a potential future star for Liverpool.
Longstaff's versatility should suit Liverpool's playing style to a tee, as the talented attacking-minded player found himself playing across the front three for the Academy. Definitely one for the future and with our fabulous front three approaching their thirties in a couple of years, fans might well get used to the sight of a certain young Longstaff running down the wing.
7. Jake Cain
At the club since he was nine, the English midfielder would love to follow in the footsteps of Steven Gerrard — having also played under the Liverpool legend as an U16 player in 2017-2018. Cain made his senior debut in the FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury Town this year, after securing his professional contract with the club.
It has been a dream year for the left-footed midfielder, who will be hoping to build on his meteoric rise after enjoying his first taste of senior football. Early comparisons to Jordan Henderson have been made, and there are probably not too many better compliments out there.
6. Billy Koumetio
Labelled as a "big talent" by Klopp, it is really not hard to see why. The French defender has all the physical attributes of a world-class centre-back — he is tall, quick and dominant in the air. Koumetio already made history at the club by being the youngest ever player to play in the Champions League at just 18 years and 25 days, and the French defender looks set to smash more records in a hugely promising career.
Fun fact: the former Orleans player was spotted as a ball boy at Anfield watching on the sidelines during the memorable 4-0 triumph against Barcelona in 2019. And we are confident it will not be long before we see "Billy the Goat" playing a part in another famous European night, the only difference this time — he will be on the pitch.
5. Leighton Clarkson
The young midfielder saw his stock rise emphatically this season after a strong senior debut against FC Midtjylland in the final Champions League group stage match. Clarkson took on a deep midfield role against the Danish side and looked composed throughout the game, despite his diminutive frame.
His pressing and passing are probably two of his standout traits, and with time very much on his side, Clarkson has the ability to grow in his role as a number six. With the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Henderson to look up to, the future looks really bright for young Clarkson.
4. Neco Williams
The Welshman has come under some criticism — a little unfairly, perhaps — earlier this season after a couple of underwhelming performances. But it is important to remember the kid is just 19 years old, with inconsistency a trait that definitely comes with the inexperience. Williams has bounced back admirably — highlighting his brilliant attitude — with recent solid performances, reminding us again the reasons why he is one of the most highly-rated young defenders.
The right-back's pace, directness and energy offers the team a little something different from the inventiveness and vision of Trent Alexander-Arnold, and it will be interesting to see the options that Klopp will have at his disposal in the years to come.
3. Caoimhin Kelleher
The young Irish shot-stopper displaced Adrian as the second-choice goalkeeper with a string of impressive performances, including the Champions League debut against Ajax. Unfortunately with the Reds out of the Carabao Cup, the talented Kelleher will find chances hard to come by — but time is on his side and he might well be Liverpool's number one in the near future.
2. Rhys Williams
One of the standout youngsters of the season, Williams have shone in the heart of the defence following the absence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez. Plans to loan the 19-year-old to Championship clubs were put on hold after the club suffered a spate of injuries, and the lanky defender has done everything to seize hold of the opportunity with a number of assured performances.
Williams has pace, excellent reading of the game, maturity and confidence way beyond his years; all the traits you associate with a certain number four in the club. Things are looking promising.
1. Curtis Jones
Not much more has to be said about young Jones, who has taken the challenge in senior football like a duck to water. A player that is so easy on the eye — Jones possesses a deft touch and a wide array of passing, making him one of those players that will rarely go unnoticed.
The midfielder has a work ethic to match too, seemingly displaying the right desire and attitude that we saw so often in Gerrard. It is perhaps not right to constantly draw comparisons to the Liverpool legend, but the similarities are increasingly obvious with each passing game... and we cannot think of a higher compliment to pay to a young, exciting player.