Five young Reds seeking first-team spot
With this week's signing of Dejan Lovren, Liverpool's roster is close to being set for the 2014-15 season. However, there is a group of younger players who are still seeking a place on the senior team. Here are five youngsters who, with solid performances in the remaining preseason matches, could still make manager Brendan Rodgers' squad for opening day:
The midfielder was first brought into the senior squad by Kenny Dalglish and looked to have a bright future ahead of him, but right now he's fighting to prove he still has a place at Anfield. Coady has captained England throughout all the various junior age groups and has great leadership qualities. He's a versatile performer, too, capable of playing centre back as well as central midfield.
He enjoyed a successful loan spell at Sheffield United last season, even playing at Wembley in an FA Cup semifinal, but it's a massive step up from League One to the Premier League and a loan spell to a Championship side would appear to be his most likely fate this season. He has impressed so far in preseason, however, and an injury or two to those ahead of him in the pecking order could open the door for an extended stay should he continue to catch the eye in the remaining friendly games.
The popular Kelly is drinking in the last chance saloon this summer. At 24 years old he's not a kid anymore and he cannot afford another season like the last one, when he barely featured at all and looked a shadow of his former self when he did.
It feels like he has been around the squad forever, yet despite having made his debut in 2008, his appearance tally stands at just 62, with only 33 coming in the Premier League. Injuries have dogged Kelly throughout his career but the change in style under Rodgers has also made it more difficult for him. He's defensively solid but somewhat limited in an attacking capacity and therefore seems ill-suited to how Rodgers likes his fullbacks to play.
He was a centre back in his academy days and many assumed that's where he would eventually end up, but if that's going to happen then it needs to be soon, as right now Kelly's Liverpool career appears to be hanging in the balance.
The flying winger has a big future at Anfield, of that there appears to be little doubt. The only question right now is whether he has an immediate future or if he will be loaned out to gain further experience. Ibe is certainly capable of playing in Liverpool's first team this season, what Rodgers has to decide is whether there will be enough opportunities to make it beneficial to keep him in the squad. If the answer to that is yes, then the 18-year-old could be this year's Raheem Sterling. If it's no, then it's in everybody's best interests for him to go out on loan.
Ibe has been fairly quiet in the past couple of preseason games but in the two prior to that he was dazzling. There is an opportunity there over the coming weeks for Ibe to prove to Rodgers that he's simply too good to be allowed to leave. The most likely scenario at this stage would appear to be Ibe sticking around in the early part of the season to see if he can be of use to the first team. If his opportunities prove to be limited then a loan move will surely follow, perhaps in January.
Liverpool are currently in talks about a new contract for the talented young Spaniard, but his role in the squad still seems very unclear. Suso has been at Anfield since he was 16 years old and it was apparent from his early academy performances that he was a huge talent. Rodgers had no qualms in handing him his Premier League debut against Manchester United and the youngster repaid his manager's faith with a fine display.
With opportunities likely to be few and far between, he spent last year on loan with Almeria in Spain where he performed well. He now faces a battle to prove to Rodgers that he should not be loaned out again and that he can play a part in Liverpool's battle for domestic and European honours. As with Ibe, Suso is certainly talented enough to play in Liverpool's first team, but his problem is that there are several others who are perhaps more talented than he is and therefore he may not play much. The next couple of weeks could be huge for Suso.
The left back was once the youngest player to ever represent the Reds before Jerome Sinclair was called up for a League Cup tie at West Bromwich Albion. Robinson's first call-up came under Rafa Benitez but it was Kenny Dalglish who gave him his first real opportunity to shine. Robinson looked to be a huge prospect in those early appearances with an exceptional display versus Arsenal at the Emirates, and against Theo Walcott in particular. His progress has stalled significantly since.
If Robinson is feeling like it's not going to happen for him at Liverpool then he need only look to the example of his good pal Jon Flanagan for the inspiration to keep going. A year ago Flanagan was behind Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom in the right-back queue. Even worse, both Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling were also selected ahead of him at various times in the early part of the campaign. Flanagan was Anfield's forgotten man but hard work on the training ground and injuries to others eventually saw him get an opportunity and he grabbed it with both hands.
Robinson is actually in a better situation than Flanagan was. He's a year younger, he has plenty of experience playing in the Football League after loan spells at Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackpool, and he has fewer players ahead of him in the pecking order. As things stand, he is competing with Jose Enrique (who is still not fully fit after a long-term injury) and his mate Flanagan. Things will change if and when Liverpool sign another left back, but Robinson has an opportunity to lay down a marker this summer and show what he is capable of.
As Rodgers said following the Olympiacos game in Chicago, "Jack now has an opportunity to show me he can be a part of the squad. I always look to young players from the academy base, I always look from within. If they show the right qualities, they can make the step up. He'll get an opportunity and hopefully he can take it."
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and is the founder/editor of the popular LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. He has written three books on the Reds. You can follow him on Twitter @theliverpoolway.