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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Keifer MacDonald

Liverpool could turn to 41-goal striker this summer as Pep Lijnders wish fulfilled

The 2021/22 campaign was another hugely successful one for all involved in Liverpool's U18s and U23s set-up.

After coronavirus restrictions eased over the course of the campaign, the club were finally able to make full use of their £50m investment to merge the Reds' academy base with their new home of first team operations, the AXA Training Centre.

Jurgen Klopp handed out eight senior debuts to players from Barry Lewtas and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson's youth teams over the 2021/22 campaign, a figure which highlights the fruitful working relationship Academy manager Alex Inglethorpe and the German enjoy.

Kaide Gordon, Tyler Morton, Max Woltman and Conor Bradley joined Melkamu Frauendorf, Elijah Dixon-Bonner, Harvey Blair and Owen Beck in adding their names to the history books as their promise, particularly on display in the UEFA Youth League, was rewarded with a moment every aspiring footballer dreams of.

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And in just under four weeks' time when Liverpool jet off to Southeast Asia for the first part of their pre-season tour, it is expected there will be plenty of youngsters onboard the plane who will be looking to sponge up the opportunity on offer to them.

Pep Lijnders name-checked three current academy stars he hoped to see included in the pre-season squad back in January, as U18s forward Bobby Clark, defender Stefan Bajcetic and his teammate Luke Chambers earned glowing praise from Klopp's number two.

"This is just my personal opinion, but I think a coach should be judged much more on the young players he brings through,” said Lijnders.

"I really believe in our project looking at our academy. For example, I spent yesterday morning at the Academy to speak with the coaches and Alex Inglethorpe.

"We look all the time at the Academy. [On Tuesday] our U18s played against Burnley in the FA Youth Cup, we had Bobby Clark, Luke Chambers, Stefan Bajcetic, they all stand out.

"I hope they come with us during the pre-season because it is important for them to have a proper pre-season to know exactly how we want to do things."

So in addition to the aforementioned trio, name-dropped by the Dutchman, which other youngsters could we see included with the first team this summer?

Oakley Cannonier

Oakley Cannonier is almost certainly a name that will provide Liverpool supporters across the world with plenty of food for thought. The 2021/22 season was a breakout season like no other for the Yorkshire-born forward as he fired an astonishing 41 goals in all competitions for the academy.

Though, that probably wasn't the first time supporters had heard of his name being mentioned, as he's become synonymous with Liverpool's incredible comeback against Barcelona at Anfield in 2019. When fulfilling his ball boy duties he swiftly handed Trent Alexander-Arnold the ball so he could execute his legendary quickly-taken corner.

Operating as an out-and-out forward, the 18-year-old possesses sharp movement and great intelligence in and around the box, making him a defender's nightmare.

Not blessed with dominating height, somewhat comparable to Diego Jota, Cannonier seems to sniff out goals wherever he is placed, highlighted in his two best performances of the campaign where he fired four goals against Leeds United and a hat-trick away at Manchester United.

Having been called up to train with Klopp's seniors ahead of the game against Tottenham in May, it surely won't be long before he's handed a prolonged opportunity to showcase his talents.

Owen Beck

Nineteen-year-old Owen Beck is another youngster who will most likely be one of the U23s' representatives on the first-team pre-season tour this summer, having enjoyed a sensational season with the Academy at left-back.

The ECHO reported on Monday that Beck is already attracting interest from clubs in England, in addition to enquiries from teams in Germany and Spain who are interested in taking the defender on loan.

Beck, who is the great-nephew of Anfield legend Ian Rush, was one of a number of academy prospects who travelled to Austria last summer as part of the club's pre-season preparations. It's fair to say he made quite the impression on Klopp and Lijnders as he was handed his debut against Preston North End in the following months.

Formally an attacking midfielder during his early days at Stoke City, Beck is the embodiment of the modern-day full-back and his eagerness and ability to contribute in the attacking third has shone during his season with Lewtas' talented squad . The defender has also managed to build an impressive relationship with the likes of Mateusz Musialowski and Frauendorf on the left-hand side.

Blessed with a cultured left-foot, he often looks to drive in-field towards the half-spaces to link play with his teammates but is more than capable of supplying the young Reds' front-line from deep, more classic, full-back positions.

A fine individual display, both going forward and defending, during the 4-0 triumph against Leicester City in April, underlined exactly why there is so much talk about Beck's potential.

Bobby Clark

Having completed a move from his boyhood club Newcastle last summer for a fee which could eventually rise to £1.5m, the 17-year-old made quite the impression during his debut season on Merseyside.

Typically deployed as a number 10, or on the left side of the attacking trio, Clark played a key role in Bridge-Wilkinson's side that finished second to Manchester City in the U18 Premier League North and impressively netted 106 goals in all competitions.

Starting 22 out of Liverpool's 26 Premier League U18 league games, Clark finished the campaign remarkably averaging a goal or assist every 114 minutes (12 goals, 5 assists)

Blessed with flair, trickery and confidence in abundance, this season feels like it could be a defining one for the young forward as he could find himself earning a promotion to Lewtas' U23s squad as a result of how easy he appears to be finding life with U18s.

However, Musiałowski followed that same blueprint last summer when he was rewarded for his fine debut season at Kirkby with a promotion to the U23s, something he later admitted was a more sizable jump than it appeared from the outside. So those at the Academy could try to map out a smoother transition plan for Clark this season

Stefan Bajcetic

Plucked from Celta Vigo for £250,000 in November 2020, just months before the new post-Brexit rules regarding academy recruitment came into play, the Spaniard has established himself as one of the Academy's most versatile operators.

Initially arriving as a defender, the 17-year-old has put in a handful of fine performances at the base of the Reds' midfielder over the course of the campaign.

Bajcetic's campaign was disrupted by injury as he missed a high number of games during the second half of the season. However, being one of the youngest in the squad at just 17, he has plenty of time to catch the eye of Klopp and Lijnders during his time at Liverpool as he penned a professional contract with the Reds back in November.

Luke Chambers

Versatile defender Luke Chambers enjoyed a fine season with Liverpool's U18s. Typically handed the captain's armband by Bridge-Wilkinson, the Englishman is able to play both in the heart of defence as well as left-back.

Like Clark, the 17-year-old defender was a mainstay in the U18s side last season, starting 77% of the games, while surprisingly contributing to 9% of the Reds' goals (six goals, three assists).

Best described as a ball-playing defender, with such comfortability coming from his time at full-back, it's no surprise to see why Chambers has already received glowing praise from Lijnders.

Arguably his finest display of the campaign came during the surprising 4-3 FA Youth Cup defeat to Chelsea, where he scored a fine solo goal after he had initiated a lovely give-and-go with Frauendorf before a fine strike from close range opened the scoring on the night.

Chambers is another member of the U18s squad who could look to make the jump between the age groups this summer, especially if Beck is allowed to leave on loan.

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