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50-50 Challenge: Merseyside derby

Liverpool vs. Everton 5 days ago
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 Posted by Dave Usher
Jul 17, 2014

Preseason means plenty to ponder

Jordon Ibe has been handed the chance to impress during preseason for Liverpool, and he could become an option for Brendan Rodgers this campaign.

"You can't read anything into preseason games," they always say. Wise words indeed, as this time last year Iago Aspas was tearing it up and duping Kopites into thinking he was an 8 million-pound bargain. A year on and the Spanish striker is back in La Liga with nothing to show for his time on Merseyside other than one FA Cup goal against lowly Oldham Athletic and the lasting memory of one of the worst corner kicks ever seen at Anfield.

Judging a new signing on his preseason performances is unwise -- Aspas was not the first "Pre-season Pele" Liverpool have had, and he won't be the last -- but for players who are on the fringes of the first team these games are much more than just a fitness exercise and it's vital that they perform well. Results may not be important but individual performances often are, perhaps not for established stars, but certainly for those with uncertain futures.

Liverpool took a 23-man squad to Denmark for the Brondby game on Wednesday and left almost as many behind, including all of their World Cup stars as well as new signings Emre Can and Lazar Markovic. Competition for places is already fierce, and with more new signings on the way it will further intensify in the coming weeks.

Many of those involved against Brondby were youngsters just there to make up the numbers until the seniors return, but for some of those outside the regular 18-man matchday squad, these preseason games represent a great opportunity to give the manager a firm nudge and say "Hey, I can still do a job for you."

- Head-to-Head: Were LFC right to sell Suarez?

Several of those involved against Brondby have big question marks over their Anfield future. The manager's mind may be made up on some already, but for others a good preseason could be the difference between an extended stay at Anfield or a loan (or even permanent transfer) elsewhere.

Fabio Borini probably tops that list. The Italian enjoyed a successful spell on loan at Sunderland last season and Gus Poyet remains keen on making that move permanent. Brendan Rodgers reportedly wants four strikers in his squad for the upcoming season but is rumoured to be willing to consider suitable offers for Borini. With Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert already occupying two of those four places and the Reds in the market for another striker following the sale of Luis Suarez, Borini's future is currently up in the air. A flurry of goals in preseason, however, could go a long way towards ensuring that Rodgers resists any offers for the former Chelsea, Swansea and Roma man.

Elsewhere, Andre Wisdom and Martin Kelly appear to be competing for the same place in the squad. Neither will be first choice but both are capable of providing cover at right-back or in the centre of the defence. Keeping both doesn't appear to be a realistic option, so again, preseason may go a long way in influencing Rodgers' decision. Centre back Tiago Ilori is another who has it all to do to convince Rodgers that he can contribute now and should not be loaned out.

The most intriguing question for me, however, is what will happen with the prodigiously talented teenage attacker, Jordon Ibe. Rodgers faces a difficult decision over the 18-year-old this summer. Does he allow him to gain further experience with a loan move, or should he keep him around and use him in the first team?

Liverpool do have more games this year so there will be more opportunities for those not normally in the regular first XI, but it's a tricky one, as Rodgers already has several players who play in Ibe's position and also has the money to go out and buy another should he so choose. The temptation must be there for Rodgers to go out and sign Xherdan Shaqiri or someone of that ilk, but does he really need to? Ibe has the potential to be a star and Raheem Sterling showed last season just what an 18-year-old can do when given the opportunity.

Ibe is exactly one year younger than Sterling but shares many of the same attributes. Indeed, a year ago there were many who felt Ibe was an even better prospect. Sterling's brilliant form in the second half of last season has since made light of that viewpoint, but who can say that Ibe will not have a similar impact if given the opportunity this season?

Ibe's finishing and final pass are not yet up to the required standard but if they do ever catch up with the rest of his game than the former Wycombe Wanderers youngster will be a star and could save Liverpool an awful lot of money. The question for Rodgers is whether he believes Ibe is ready to make that leap this coming season.

The Northern Irishman appears to be undecided at this stage, saying after the 2-1 loss at Brondby: "He's still only 18. It's just about looking at the next stage of his development."

This time last year the same questions were being asked regarding Sterling and there was plenty of discussion as to whether a loan move would aid his development more than being on the fringes at Anfield. It's easy to forget that, given the huge impact the youngster had on the second half of Liverpool's season. At times he even outperformed Sturridge and Suarez.

Rodgers certainly got that one right, so Ibe's future is clearly in good hands, as is Liverpool's.